Sweet Pepper and Greens Pasta Bake

I haven't posted a pasta dish for quite a while now. I guess it's because I think people are bored of 'em - there are literally thousands of pasta recipes on the net so why would you make mine over someone else's? Admittedly, I don't make pasta half as much as I used to - my weekly menu has been somewhat paired down of late and only the very best and most delicious dishes have made the grade. You'll be happy to know this is one them!

I first discovered this recipe on the back of a Waitrose recipe card - that was years ago now, possibly going on for a decade, which is pretty bloody scary if you ask me. The original recipe included a heap load of cheese and jar of ready made sauce. Y'see these recipes cards, whilst being very helpful sometimes, are really just a marketing ploy to try and get you to buy a certain product. I realise I'm probably stating the obvious.

I defiantly refuse to take the bait and always make (as far as I can and is possible) everything from scratch. For this particular recipe it meant ignoring the inclusion of a Sacla tomato sauce and rustling up my own version, which not only saved me money but also tasted fresher and tastier. Shop bought can never compete with homemade. Fact.

I added the kale and, of course, eliminated the cheese. I can't even remember what cheese was supposed to be on it - probably parmesan or maybe even cheddar. Why would you want to smother all those lovely ingredients in goo? It did look a bit bare, however, so I tried topping it with various things before settling on the breadcrumbs, which is far superior and complimentary than cheese, in my opinion. My second favourite topping was sliced tomatoes so if you want to go down that route feel free, it works incredibly well also.

I also lessened the spiciness, which is an unusual move for me but again, I felt it overpowered and masked the ingredients rather than enhancing them. I'm all about the spice, by the way, so I really wouldn't do this without good reason. If you do want to add a little extra heat though, toss in an extra minced red chilli (large) and good shake of chilli flakes - it's your call.

I love this dish and so does my Husband and I especially like the fact I've been making it for him ever since we first met - it has history. Food is very evocative and a powerful memory maker. I have a feeling I'll be making this dish for years to come and I hope you'll now make room for it in your menu too.

sweet pepper and greens pasta bake

2 sweet romano peppers

1 bunch kale

3 cups baby leaf spinach

1 can chopped tomatoes

3 garlic cloves

1 large red chilli pepper

250g penne pasta (approx 2 cups)

for the breadcrumbs

1 cup breadcrumbs (approx 3 slices of bread pref. wholewheat)

1/4 cup pine nuts (toasted - optional)

1 tbsp dried oregano

salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees celsius/400 degrees fahrenheit and bring a large pan of water to the boil.

Heat a little olive oil in a pan/skillet. Chop the peppers into large pieces and add to pan. Season generously and allow to soften for a few minutes ensuring to stir often.

Mince the garlic and chilli pepper and add to the pan. Gently fry for a further 5 minutes until it exudes that lovely garlicky aroma. Add the canned tomatoes, season and bring to a very gentle simmer. When the tomatoes have softened sufficiently break them up with the back of a wooden spoon until the sauce is almost completely smooth. Season and continue to simmer until the peppers are soft but not soggy.

Meanwhile blanch the kale briefly in the boiling water. Remove with a slotted spoon. The water will now contain all that gorgeous kale liquer, which you'll now cook the pasta in. Salt the water and add the pasta. You want to under cook the pasta by about 4 minutes otherwise it will disintegrate when baked and become mushy and not al dente - not good!

Add the spinach to the tomato and pepper sauce and allow to wilt. Roughly chop the kale and also add to the sauce. Season.

Blitz your bread to a fine breadcrumb. Toast your pine nuts either in a dry pan or in the oven. Keep an eye on them so they don't burn. Keep them moving - you want them lightly coloured. You can skip this stage altogther and just add them as they are. Mix the breadcrumbs, pine nuts and oregano together. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Drain the pasta and add to the pan along with the sauce. Thoroughly mix before transferring to a casserole dish. Taste and season if necessary. Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and bake in oven for 25-30mins.

Serve by itself or with a large salad. Delicioso!