Rush Hour

I love lasagna, but unless I want to make it in advance, it's best left for days when I have well over an hour to assemble and bake it. So what do I do when I get a craving for it and it's the middle of the week in my most busy part of the day? It's simple. I improvise!

This month's recipe takes the flavors of lasagna and gives you a meal on the table in less than an hour. My rendition uses boneless, skinless chicken breasts and penne pasta because they are some of my favorites and are always on hand in my house. You can opt for ground beef, shredded pork or any other number of protein options and just about any pasta shape your heart desires. I've grown especially fond of the mini penne pasta that's out there and I tend to favor varieties that have at least some whole wheat in them ... and in this dish, even the pickiest eaters in your family won't notice the extra nutrition that packs!

Before I leave you to experiment with this month's recipe, I wanted to say a few things about diced tomatoes. First, January is a good time of the year to familiarize yourself with canned tomatoes. The fresh options available in the grocery store tend to be of questionable flavor since a great many have traveled many miles and were picked far from ripe so that they could survive the journey and arrive at your market looking red and unbruised. Canned varieties are often better nutritional choices and the flavor is more reliable. Second, the number of choices you have when it comes to canned diced tomatoes is amazing.

  • Petite dice versus regular dice.
  • Fire-roasted versus vine-ripened.
  • Roasted garlic, Italian seasoned, green chili, balsamic vinegar.

The choices are astounding. So do yourself a favor ... get to know your options and take advantage of the wide variety available to keep monotony from your table!

As always, I encourage you to share your recipe ideas and comments. You can always post comments in the discussion board using the forms provided in the articles or email me directly at . Enjoy!

Baked Penne with Chicken and Tomatoes

  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts -- about 8 oz.
  • 1/2 red onion -- diced
  • 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
  • 1 (15.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes -- I like to use fire-roasted with roasted garlic
  • 1 lb. dried penne pasta -- cooked and drained
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 c. shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Slice the chicken into bite-sized pieces and add to the hot oil, turning frequently. Sauté the chicken for 5 minutes. Add the diced onion and seasonings and cook an additional 3 minutes.

Toss the chicken mixture and diced tomatoes with the cooked pasta and toss to combine. Place into a 9x13-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top of the casserole.

Cover with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly, uncovering the dish for the last 5 minutes of baking. Serve hot.

  • Yields: 6-8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 40-50 minutes