Recipe: Vegetable Marinara Pasta Bake with Popped Amaranth Top Crust

I don’t know that I’ve ever really declared this here on my blog, but I’m pretty much a geek in a lot of ways.

Ready to go in the oven

I’m a running geek who eagerly awaits her issues of Runner’s World and Running Times each month – then immersing myself in training methods, splits, and gear.

I’m a pop culture geek who can spend days philosophizing about the socially important messages and critiques in a single episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and who counts the regeneration of The Doctor as a significant stressor in her life.

I’m a HUGE literary geek.  Tired of being around me?  Just shove me in a bookstore or library and I’ll be entirely happy on my own until I realize I haven’t eaten in days.

And, of course, I’m a kitchen geek.  I get excited about kitchen gadgets and culinary ephemera.  An orderly mise en place sets my world on fire and learning a new cooking technique is an exciting adventure.

Noodles and Veggies

So when I learned about how amaranth (a nutritious, tasty, and gluten free grain that I can safely eat!) can be popped like popcorn on the stovetop, I KNEW it was something I had to try.  I got excited about this.  Like REALLY excited.

My excitement only grew throughout the process of popping the amaranth and making this dish.  I ended up with amaranth all over my kitchen because I got a little over excited and didn’t cover it well at first, but it was worth it.  This was fun and totally delighted my inner-culinary geek who marveled at watching this mighty little grain go!

If you’re hesitant to try this technique or just don’t have access to amaranth, you can certainly make this dish with a traditional breadcrumb topping or no topping at all.  But, if you’re feeling adventurous – find some amaranth and get ready to have some fun in your kitchen – just keep a broom handy for the errant traveling seeds you’ll find later!

Plated

**Note: As is the case with so many meals, feel free to customize this dish with your favorite vegetables or what you have on hand.  I like this combination of mushrooms, onion, pepper, and spinach for the complimentary mix of tastes, colors, and nutritional benefits, but you could certainly swap other veggies to suit your needs.

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Vegetable Marinara Bake with Popped Amaranth Top Crust

A Move Eat Create Original Recipe  Olive oil

Serves 8

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz gluten free penne (or pasta of choice)
  • ¼ cup amaranth
  • 3 tblspns vegan Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tblspn chopped fresh basil
  • 1 ½ tblspn olive oil, divided
  • ½ yellow onion, diced
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 ½ cup chopped cremini mushrooms
  • ¼ tspn ground fennel
  • ½ tspn crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tblspn nutritional yeast
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves, chopped
  • 25-26 oz jar of marinara sauce (or equivalent of homemade)
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare an 11 x 7 baking pan by coating with cooking spray.
  2. Cook pasta noodles to just al dente, according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.
  3. Prepare the ingredients that will be the topping for the pasta bake.  To pop the amaranth, warm a dry pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop.  When heated, add 1 tablespoon of amaranth at a time to the pan.  If you have one, cover with a splatter screen.  The amaranth will begin to pop like popcorn.  Agitate the amaranth in the pan until most has popped.  Transfer popped amaranth to a bowl and repeat until all amaranth has been popped.  Be especially careful, as the amaranth can burn if it is not kept almost constantly agitated by shaking the pan or stirring.  The amaranth will pop quickly.  Once all amaranth has been popped, add vegan Parmesan, chopped basil, and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to it and mix well to combine and coat ingredients with the olive oil.  Set aside.
  4. Heat remaining ½ tablespoon oil in a sauté pan over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, and pepper, along with a pinch of salt, and sauté for about 5 minutes, until vegetables are softened.
  5. Add chopped mushrooms and cook another 3-4 minutes.
  6. Add fennel, red pepper flakes, nutritional yeast, and chopped spinach to pan.  Mix well and cook just 1-2 minutes until spinach starts to wilt.  Turn off heat and add cooked pasta noodles to the pan, stirring well to combine all ingredients.
  7. Line bottom of prepared baking pan with a light layer of the marinara sauce.  Pour noodles and vegetables on top of sauce and spread evenly.  Pour remaining marinara sauce onto top of noodle/vegetable mixture evenly.  Finally, sprinkle prepared topping across the entire casserole.
  8. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degree.  Uncover and continue to bake for 10 more minutes.  Serve with additional salt, pepper, and vegan Parmesan to taste.

My Weekend In Pictures

Here’s my weekend in a nutshell.  It was a lovely couple of days in Portland and I reached a milestone this weekend – first 20 mile run is complete!

photo credit: Tal Bright via photopin cc

photo credit: Tal Bright via photopin cc

20 miles, you all!  Woot!

I celebrated with a peaceful and delicious hour at one of my favorite coffee shops.

Good book.  Delicious scone.  Ultra satisfying cup of coffee.

Good book. Delicious scone. Ultra satisfying cup of coffee.

Later, I went looking for work shoes and found these instead.

mizunos - edited

For $45!! These are my favorite Mizunos which normally run over $100.  It was the deal of a century.

I cooked up an exciting dinner (those pictures will come later in the week) and spent an hour with The Doctor.

Sunday was brunch out with my favorite people and seeing life starting to make itself known in my first apartment container garden.

plants - edited

Not too shabby.

Why Wednesdays? – Why Creativity Counts: Series Recap

A Note about This Feature:  Why Wednesdays is a Move Eat Create weekly feature determined to turn the mid-week doldrums upside down and celebrate things I love to do and blog about.  Currently, the focus is on creating and creativity.

 

In my opinion, creativity so often gets a bad rap.  It’s too often thought of as something that a select group of people have. And while it may be considered fun, it is not necessarily considered ‘important’ by the standards of society at large.  It is not uncommon for creativity to be relegated to the ranks of crafters, kooky ‘artsy’ types and children.   There are two main things I would like to say about this.

photo credit: gfpeck via photopin cc

photo credit: gfpeck via photopin cc

First, this attitude is problematic because crafters, kooky ‘artsy’ types, and children contribute wonderful things to our world which should not be undervalued.

Second, and probably the most consistent theme that I hope has come through in this series, is that creativity is so much bigger than that.  It is not the sole domain of specific, select groups of people.  We all have at least a little bit of it in us and it shows up in a wonderful hodgepodge of ways.

Plus, where the heck would we be without it?  Museums would be empty.  Restaurants would serve unseasoned rice and noodles.  Everyone would wear black.  Movies would tell the same stories over and over again (okay, sometimes it feels like this last one is already happening).

Science would be stunted.  There wouldn’t be an iPad.  Forget about giving your kids an Etch-A-Sketch or occupying their time with crayons.  There would be no building forts out of cushions and boxes.  There would be no Martha Stewart.  No Warhol or Da Vinci (and subsequently, no wonderful Doctor Who episode about Da Vinci).  No jazz.  No Broadway.  No Eiffel Tower or Golden Gate Bridge.  No Sesame Street.  No Choose Your Own Adventure books.  No yarn bombing.  No fancy cupcakes.  No Bob Ross and his happy little trees.

No progress.

No innovation.

No fun.

Am I being melodramatic?  Maybe.  It wouldn’t be the first time.  But, maybe not.

Our world moves forward with little steps (a new yarn shop on the corner!) and big ones (a new space mission being launched!) because of individuals who have creative thoughts and aren’t afraid to let them out.  Every clever new idea, every visionary plan of the future, every inventive contraption adds a little something to our world that we didn’t have before.  Some creative output fails and some prospers, but it all matters.  It all teaches us and inspires us and keeps things churning.

It is all valuable and we all have creative instincts in some regard.

So what are you waiting for?

Where’s your creative energy at today?

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Previous Entries in This Series:

Why Creativity Counts #5:  It Connects Us

Why Creativity Counts #4:  It’s Handy When You’re Cheap and Broke Frugal

Why Creativity Counts #3:  Self-Sufficiency

Why Creativity Counts #2:  It Makes You Smarter

Why Creativity Counts #1:  Because It’s So Much More Than You May Think

Coming Up:  Why I Eat . . .