The Best Baked Penne
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
Do you do your grocery shopping at Target?
Obviously I do not need another reason to go to Target, but the reason I specifically do 97.5% of my grocery shopping there is because of the double seated carts. You know, for bigger kids whose mom can't focus while letting them walk around the cart while she shops. We have a Market 32 by Price Chopper, I love it there, but I try my best to only shop there by myself. The carts are small, if I put the kids in one has to sit on the top, and one has to share the bottom with the groceries. If I let the bigger one walk, the little one freaks out and she's the one who I have to keep my eyes on, because she shops for herself and doesn't care to stay right with me when my eyes are turned. You have no idea how many times I have bought a bagful of unnecessary items because I feel terrible telling the cashier I don't actually need them, again.
So to avoid all of that, we do what we know works best with our giant ark of a cart all through Target, bumping into basically ever corner of every aisle along the way. It's really too bad they don't sell wine like they do at the Target in Minneapolis. That was a dream.
In the most recent weeks I have been the sole grocery shopper and the kids stay with Matt to avoid a crowd in a store. I really cannot wait to be able to browse with my cart and my kids and argue with them about all the toys they do not need to get. You really forget to appreciate the little things, amiright?
I have been slow jogging through the store whenever we run out of something crucial and this time I needed meat. They were cleared out of basically everything, they had what I thought was one package of ground beef left so I grabbed it in a hurry and took off before someone came near me. I'm getting really good at that. I feel like I've been practicing my entire life. Well, I got home and it wasn't ground beef it was ground pork. Which is actually fine if I wanted to make meatballs because I can combine with ground beef and it would actually be even better than meatballs without (just a tip for you) but I made my family stuffed meatballs already since this stay-in-place order three weeks ago and I didn't feel like combining and molding and stuffing and searing then baking meatball.
I also wanted to make something with enough for leftovers because lunch during the week isn't something I'm used to anymore, and I keep forgetting to buy deli meat. They probably don't have any anyways. Once upon a time, before I was the proud chef I am now (LOL) I needed to make a big family sized dinner for Kennie's 2nd birthday party. I planned to make baked ziti the whole time, until I went into my pantry and I didn't have enough marinara sauce... (insert crying emoji)
BUT I did have Alfredo. I was in a desperate situation and I had not choice but to toss the al dente noodles in the Alfredo and them save the marinara sauce for the ground beef on top. As it turned out, it was a huge hit. The fam ate the entire thing and I promptly forgot this recipe afterwards. Being stuck at home with no relief of takeout or going to a restaurant has me running out of ideas that my kids and we will eat, and I don't know about you, but I have currently run out of patience for 3 different meals every night for dinner. They like pasta. They like "red sauce." They like "white sauce." And, they won't even know that the ground beef is mixed with ground pork.
But of course if I am masking ground pork into this meal I have to also hide some vegetables in there. Spinach is the perfect green to chop up quickly and mix into this dish. It's flavor is very hard to detect and they just think that it's herbs in the marinara sauce. Win win. And, it's delicious.
You will need to get a jar of Alfredo, or make it. You will need to get a jar of marinara, or make it. I did not make the pasta sauce this time, I have been repainting my room and my kitchen in preparation for new cabinets, and some shiplap accent on my bedroom wall. Needless to say, hiking up and down a ladder, up and down basement stairs and climbing countertops is a work out. I had the energy to let cream cheese, butter and cream to cook itself in a pan, but hand crushing Roma tomatoes wasn't an option this time. And, I was fine with that. I know most bloggers make from scratch each and every ingredient in their recipes but just like fresh herbs, sometimes you just don't have all that in stock, especially with the way the world is right now. That shouldn't stop us from having great food. Amiright?
What I did to combine the ground beef and the ground pork I just mixed it by hand like you would for meatballs or meatloaf (loaf, ew) Then cook in a frying pan on the stove. If you plan to use my ever faithful Alfredo recipe, I recommend adding more cream than normal. Generally it calls for 2 CUPs of heavy cream, whole milk or half + half, this time do 3 CUPS. Baking the pasta Alfredo will soak up some of the fared and you want it to still be creamy when its all done.
Once the ground meat mixture (ew LOL) is combine start cooking on LOW/MEDIUM. Bring a pot of water to a boil, get the Alfredo sauce going (if you are making it yourself) and start chopping up some uncooked, fresh baby spinach. Using frozen would be okay, I would follow the cooking directions on the package at this point, and start that ASAP to let it cool before mixing it into the pasta. If you are using a jar of Alfredo, give it a quick warm up on the stove top while you drain the pasta.
All you have to do now is toss the pasta in Alfredo sauce (remember it will absorb some, so no need to worry you're using too much) Add in the spinach to that pasta Alfredo, and put it in a baking dish. Combine the marinara sauce with the ground beef and pork, layer over the top of the pasta, sprinkle shredded Italian cheese over the top and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
If you want to add the bread crumb topping (you probably do) crush a sleeve of ritz crackers in a ziplock bag, on MEDIUM melt 1 TBSP of butter and toss the crumbs around for toasting. At about 7 minutes, pull the stove rack out far enough to sprinkle the bread crumbs on top, then follow up with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Finish baking for the rest of the 15 minutes OR until the top looked browned and bubbly. No one wants a burned baked penne ;)
box of penne (or ziti)
1/2 lb. ground pork
1/2 lb. ground beef
a jar of Alfredo sauce
a jar of marinara sauce
2 CUPS of baby spinach
1 TSP Italian dry seasoning
parmesan cheese, to taste
1 CUP Italian blend shredded cheese
1. Boil the pasta to al dente following the boxed directions
2. Season the ground beef/pork, then cook in a frying pan until almost* done (it will cook more in the oven, and this avoids overcooking, if you see a little pink that's okay)
3. While the pasta and meat are cooking, slice up 2 cups of baby spinach, I use food scissors
4. When the pasta is done, drain and transfer into a large mixing bowl
5. Pour the Alfredo sauce over the penne and mix thoroughly
6. Toss the spinach on top and mix that in as well
7. Drain any excess fat from the meat in the frying pan, then combine with marinara sauce
8. Grease a large baking dish, and transfer the penne Alfredo and spinach into the dish
9. Next, layer the ground beef/pork and sauce combination over the pasta
10. Top with a handful of Italian shredded cheese, be sure to at least cover the surface
11. Bake for 15 minutes at 325 degrees, or until you see bubbling and blowing of the cheese
12. Top with parmesan cheese to taste and enjoy! Xo