Friday, March 29, 2013

Gluten-Free Cheesy Pasta Bake

One way we celebrate birthdays here is by letting the special birthday star choose what is for dinner on their birthday night. Even if it is cake and ice cream, or finger foods like we had for Princess' birthday this year, we all eat whatever they choose for dinner. Bean's birthday was earlier this week, and she chose her favorite meal for dinner: Baked Penne. "It's like a cross between two of my very favorites, lasagna and spaghetti with grilled Italian sausage!"

Cue momentary panic on my part. Baked Penne involves a lot of pasta and a lot of garlic, two things which Beaker can't eat! But I gave Bean a big smile and promised to make her chosen dish for dinner. I would find a way to make it Beaker safe. I was up for that challenge!

My usual recipe includes penne pasta, a jar of spaghetti sauce, and extra garlic. For Beaker, these foods will make him sick, so I had to find an alternative. Do you realize that nearly every commercial spaghetti sauce has garlic? And most are also made with soybean oil, another food ingredient Beaker can't eat. So I knew I would be making my own. And no garlic in an Italian dish?! Whoever heard of such a thing?

Well, I did it! And it turned out *FANTASTIC*! Everyone said it was delicious. My mom is visiting and she said she couldn't tell the difference between the regular recipe and the Beaker-safe version. And neither could I! The Dude said he liked the new recipe even better than the old. He isn't as big of a garlic fan as I am, so the garlic-free version was a big hit with him. And Bean? She was completely thrilled to have her favorite dish and know her little brother could eat it, too.

Beaker said it was "ah-wishus!"

Finding a soy-free, garlic-free salad dressing was a challenge, too. Beaker is a huge fan of ranch, but all of the commercial ranch dressings that I have found contain garlic and often soybean oil, too. I finally found a Beaker-safe honey mustard, but he isn't a big fan. I'm sure I'll find an alternative he likes soon!

And finally, the recipe!

Gluten-Free, Garlic-Free Cheesy Pasta Bake


1 bag gluten-free pasta (we used brown rice pasta from Trader Joe's)
1 small tub ricotta cheese
1 pack GF Italian sausage links
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, separated
1 large can crushed plain tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano

1) Grill sausages and set aside to cool.
2) Cook pasta according to package instructions. Be careful not to overcook! Rice pasta gets mushy when it is overcooked.
3) While the pasta is cooking, slice the sausage links into coins.
4) Drain pasta and toss in sausages. Add crushed tomatoes, herbs, and ricotta cheese, mixing until well blended. Mix in one cup of mozzarella cheese.
5) Pour into baking dish and top with the other cup of mozzarella. Bake at 375* for 35 minutes or until the top is bubbly and lightly browning.

I served it with a garlic seasoning on the side, for those who wanted some, but it was just as good without. And completely safe for my little Beaker! It is free of gluten, soy, garlic, nuts, fish, and eggs.

Even my garlic loving goofy Princess thought it was delicious!

It packs great for lunch, too! Especially in our Easy Lunchboxes, which are microwave safe and have never stained on us, even with hot tomato sauce.

Since the Dude has a microwave at work, I packed up the leftover pasta bake for his lunch, including a small bit of garden salad and a plum on the side.

The Dude said it reheated great, tasting just as good the next day as it did fresh out of the oven for dinner. The recipe is pretty versatile, too. So if you aren't sensitive to garlic, toss some in there. It's also really good with onions and peppers, but all but one of my kids dislike them.

If you make it, drop a comment to let me know how it turned out! I'm always interested in hearing new suggestions for things to try out.

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