Yesterday I posted my recipe for “Chicken, Spinach & 3 Cheese Ravioli”.  I love ravioli because there are so many variations you can play with when it comes to the flavor of the filling.  And as a bonus, you can make ravioli ahead of time and freeze them - and cook directly out of the freezer.

One of the fun things about making ravioli is that you can get your friends and family involved in the assembly process.

Yet, I admit that there are times when I may not have the time to make ravioli.  And that’s why I put this recipe together ... so that I could have the same flavors that I love in the ravioli - in a creamy, cheesy one dish pasta bake!

You can also make this in advance; cover it with foil and refrigerate.  And - If possible, pull out of the refrigerator while the broiler/oven is pre-heating to take the chill off, and to avoid having to broil/bake longer than suggested.

Here’s my recipe for Chicken, Spinach & 3 Cheese Penne Pasta Bake:

  1. -2 tablespoons butter

  2. -2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  3. -1 cup milk

  4. -1 heaping cup of the filling posted in Chicken, Spinach & 3 Cheese Ravioli

  5. -2 cups dried penne pasta, cooked to al dente, then drained (about 1 minute shy of the minimal suggested cooking time on the package, do not rinse pasta after draining)

  6. -Panko breadcrumbs + 1 tablespoon melted butter for crunchy topping

Start by preheating your oven to 425 degrees. * Or preheat your broiler if you will be serving immediately.

To make the Béchamel sauce - melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan over medium heat.  When the butter has almost stopped bubbling, add the 2 tablespoons of flour.  (I usually pull the pan off the heat for a moment when I add the flour).

Immediately begin whisking the butter and flour and cook over medium heat, while continuing to whisk to a smooth paste-like consistency.  Cook for 1-2 minutes, until the flour has been cooked out and the roux turns a light blonde color.

Then slowly add the 1 cup of milk - about 1/4 cup at a time ... whisk each addition until it is smooth.

Allow the mixture to thicken over a low boil, while still whisking.  Do not let it separate or burn, or you will have to start over.

Once thick, add the Chicken, Spinach & 3 Cheese mixture.  Whisk until it’s a creamy, thick sauce.

Add the drained penne pasta to the saucepan and stir to combine the pasta with the sauce.

Add the pasta to a casserole, gratin or baking dish, that has been buttered or sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  I used a 1-quart casserole.  If broiling - be sure it’s safe.

  1. *If you have a shallow gratin dish - the pasta can be cooked for less time - which will result in the dish being even creamier!

Sprinkle the top of the pasta with Panko breadcrumbs.  Drizzle the 1 tablespoon of melted butter over the breadcrumbs.

Place the dish under the broiler for a couple of minutes to brown the top ... OR ... Place the pasta bake into the oven for 15 - 20 minutes, or until the top is golden and the mixture is bubbling. 

  1. *What I’ve learned during my pasta bake experiments is that the less amount of time you can “broil/bake” them, the creamier they will stay.

  1. *This is why I prefer a hot oven for a short amount of time - whether it’s broiled or baked.  And I believe this “logic” is also why when it comes to Macaroni & Cheese - some people really prefer stovetop recipes ... because they are creamier than their baked counterparts. 

  1. *Broiling or Baking the dish in a shallow dish + a pre-heated hot broiler/oven (to crisp and brown the top) - for a short amount of time keeps the dish rich and creamy!

Serve with Anchovy Butter Bread!   Merry Christmas!