Heart-healthier Italian sausage-rigatoni bake

Happy February, everybody!  It’s American Heart Health month, and yesterday was “Wear Red for Women” day, to remind us that heart disease kills more American women than any form of cancer, and that we need to improve our eating, get a little more exercise, and take care of ourselves!

I'm wearing a red t-shirt from the Louis & Peaches Owen Heart Hospital in Tyler, TX!

I’m wearing a red t-shirt from the Louis & Peaches Owen Heart Hospital in Tyler, TX!

This month is especially important to me because my sister and I lost our mother when she was only 62 years old to diabetes-related heart disease. She was far too young to die of a heart attack, and I am doing my best to maintain a healthy heart.

One way to do that is to decrease saturated fats and increase healthy fats, like olive oil and the fat found in nuts and avocados. Yes, they still have calories, but they don’t contain the saturated fat that clogs our beautiful arteries.

To kick off this special month, I created a new recipe similar to one of Martha Stewart’s recipes that I love. Her recipe has heavy cream, etc., and I thought it’d be good to lighten it up a bit. I did just that, and I joined Jennifer Hines on KLTV7 News at 5 yesterday to share the recipe with our viewers. Now I can share it with YOU!

Click here to see the video!  We had fun, as always. 

Now, here’s how I lightened up this decadent-tasting, hearty meal: I used turkey Italian sausage that you can even find at Walmart now, and it has that great flavor of fennel that everyone loves in Italian sausage. I sauteed in olive oil, and I used fat free half and half instead of heavy cream. I used a whole ten ounce package of organic baby spinach for iron and fiber, and you can even use whole wheat pasta in place of regular semolina pasta.  It is still sooo good!

Here’s the recipe, (adapted from a recipe on marthastewart.com)

Mama Steph's lightened up rigatoni bake

Mama Steph’s Heart-healthier Italian sausage pasta bake

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 medium red onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can (28 ounces) crushed  tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup fat free half and half
  • 1 pound rigatoni
  • 10 ounces baby spinach
  • 12 ounces smoked chicken sausage,or Italian style turkey sausage, sliced
  • 6 ounces fontina cheese: 4 ounces cut into 1/2-inch cubes and 2 ounces coarsely grated
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup shredded lowfat mozzarella
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion; cook until translucent, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic. Return to heat; cook until almost evaporated, 1 minute.
  2. Stir in tomatoes and oregano; cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add half and half; cook until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper.
  3. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook pasta in the boiling water until al dente, according to package instructions. Add spinach, and cook just until wilted. Drain, and return contents to pot. (or, add spinach directly into the sauce and stir until wilted; I did this to preserve any nutrients that might be poured off when pasta is drained.)
  4. Add tomato sauce, sausage, and cubed fontina to pot; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Divide evenly between two shallow 1 1/2-quart baking dishes or one larger dish.
  5. Top with grated fontina, mozzarella, and Parmesan. Bake until browned and edges are crisp, 20 to 30 minutes.

Martha’s tip: To freeze, prepare the dish through step 4; let cool completely before covering tightly with plastic wrap and placing in the freezer. If you freeze this dish, do not thaw before baking. Remove plastic wrap, and cover with foil. Cook until heated through, 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 hours. Remove foil, and continue with step 5.

Mama Steph’s tips: Precook rigatoni and store it in a gallon-sized ziploc bag. Pour a teaspoon of olive oil in and squeeze bag to coat; this will keep it from sticking together. Store in fridge to use when you’re ready to make the recipe later in the week.

If you don’t want to use fontina, you could substitute goat cheese or lowfat cream cheese, though you’ll lose some of that good, sharp flavor fontina adds. Still, it’ll be great!

Mama Steph's lightened-up pasta bake

My pasta waiting patiently for its turn to be on the small screen.

My pasta waiting patiently for its turn to be on the small screen.

I hope you love  it as much as my family did last week, and as much as our studio crew and newsroom staff did yesterday! (They went through two pans of it!)  :)

Enjoy!

You might also like: Italian sausage vegetable-pasta soup

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In the Kitchen With Mama Steph on Facebook – join me there for even more recipes and food discussion!

Copyright 2013 Stephanie Hill Frazier. All rights reserved.

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