Meatless Comfort Food

Some of you may recall that I am a fan of roasting tomatoes. And it's times like now, when the weather is cold and fresh tomatoes are a mere shadow of summer's finest produce, that doing so really pays off:

Imagine a warm, inviting bowl of pasta draped in a cloak of roasted tomato sauce and sprinkled with breaded, melty cheese balls and tell me that's not an appealing way to end your day. The tomatoes combine an element of sweetness with the tried and true flavor of a good Italian pasta sauce and the little blobs of ooey, gooey cheese are enough to bring smiles to us all in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. What's more, since the tomatoes were roasted and frozen months ago, this becomes a dish that takes -- at most -- about 20 minutes to get on the table. When time seems to be one of the rarest things in our lives, a fantastic, family-pleasing dinner that takes less than a half hour to make it a real blessing.

Now, you can opt to use a store-bought tomato sauce if you didn't roast any tomatoes this year. If you do so, I recommend something chunky with a lot of flavor. Some of the nicer options out there even include things like roasted tomatoes and a bit of wine or the like. Choose something you know your family will enjoy and feel free to use the extra time you've saved to order some gifts online, write out some Christmas cards, or -- better yet -- pour yourself a cup of cheer and just enjoy a moment of sitting still in the middle of one of the busiest times of the year.

Cheesy Roasted Tomato Pasta

  • 8 oz. low-fat string cheese, cut into small rounds
  • 1/4 c. skim milk
  • 1/3 c. Italian style bread crumbs
  • 16 oz. penne pasta
  • 2 c. coarsely chopped roasted tomatoes or chunky tomato sauce of your choice
  • 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Set a silicone baking mat on a baking sheet and set aside.

To make the breaded cheese balls: Dip the cut cheese in the skim milk to evenly coat. Place the wet cheese pieces in a resealable container with the breadcrumbs, cover, and shake gently to evenly cover the cheese. Arrange the balls on the prepared baking sheet, leaving room around each ball, and bake for about 8-10 minutes or until the cheese balls are soft and the crumbs are slightly golden.

Meanwhile, boil the pasta according to the package instructions and warm the remaining ingredients in a large, nonstick skillet. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and toss it with the sauce in the skillet. Top with the melted cheese balls and serve immediately.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes