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Pasta pie is a pleaser without preparation anxiety


Why not consider this Southwestern-style pasta pie for one of those many potluck occasions that seem to crop up with such frequency during the summer?

The amazingly easy recipe gives you all the advantages of a casserole by being simple to prepare, easy to transport and delicious whether served hot or at room temperature.

This flavorful combination of chicken, black beans, a sauce of tomatoes and zesty Mexican spices, plus some creamy cheese is always a crowd pleaser. Best of all, it's a great way to use that leftover pasta.

Once the pie has been baked, it can be frozen for future use. It also happens to be extremely low in fat, but to reduce the fat found mainly in the cheese, you can use part-skim ricotta and reduced-fat shredded cheese.

As a cool vegetable to accompany the casserole, the new shredded broccoli product (available in most produce departments) offers a delicious alternative to coleslaw traditionally made with cabbage. Packed with nutrition, these shreds of the broccoli stem and flower marry well with a simple bottled dressing.

If you are throwing together a mayonnaise-based dressing, use the reduced-fat or nonfat variety. Or try substituting some nonfat plain yogurt for a bit of the mayonnaise. A little sugar and vinegar add the extra zip.

The lush Pink Margarita Sorbet was inspired by a new, fiery cookbook, "Burning Passions," by Park Kerr. This icy, fruity concoction is basically whipped up from freezer staples.

To make: Puree 1 1/2 pounds frozen strawberries in a food processor with a 12-ounce can of partially thawed limeade and 2/3 cup sugar. Transfer to a container, cover and freeze. Upon serving, scoop the mixture into individual serving bowls or Margarita glasses. You have the option of drizzling tequila and triple sec over the top or serving it without alcohol. Top with a fresh strawberry and serve with a spoon, not a straw.

Items you should have as staples are: onions, canned tomatoes, taco seasoning mix, cooked pasta, olive oil, shredded Cheddar or Mexi-blend cheese, coleslaw dressing (or mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar), frozen limeade, tequila and triple sec (optional).

Your 10-item-or-less shopping list:

1 (15-16 ounce) can black beans

8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breasts

part-skim ricotta

1 (16 ounce) package broccoli coleslaw

1 1/2 pounds frozen unsweetened strawberries

6 fresh strawberries

Mexican Pasta Pie

Serves 6

1/2 onion, finely chopped

1 (28-ounce) can tomatoes with juice, coarsely chopped

1 (1 1/4 -ounce) package taco mix

1 (15- to 16-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

2 chicken boneless, skinless breast halves (about 8 ounces), cut in 1/2 -inch pieces

4 cups cooked ziti or penne pasta (about 1 cup dried pasta)

2 teaspoons olive oil

1 cup part-skim ricotta

1 cup shredded Cheddar or Mexi-blend cheese

Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 7-by-11-inch baking dish.

In a medium bowl or food processor, mix onion, tomatoes, taco mix and black beans. Toss the pasta with olive oil.

Spread 1 cup of sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Add the cooked pasta. Dot with the ricotta and then spread with a knife. At this time, stir chicken pieces into the tomato sauce and spoon this over the ricotta. Sprinkle with the shredded cheese.

Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

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