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.