This yummy pasta dish isn’t as expensive as you might think, with “seafood” in the title. Two small cans of salmon or tuna are enough for 4-to-6 servings.
Each ingredient in this excellent recipe adds to the blend of complex flavors that make this dish as special as one you’d praise in a restaurant.
If you don’t have shell-shaped pasta in the pantry, I strongly recommend you buy some. Using shell-shaped pasta compliments the texture and “mouth feel” of this layered, cheese-topped casserole. This dish can be prepared one day in advance. See Make-Ahead Note.
Seafood Pasta Bake:
To Prepare the Bottom Layer:
Into a 12 x 7 x 2-in. (30 x 17.5 x 5 cm) spray-greased, oven-proof casserole, pour one 7 oz. (213 mL) can tomato sauce, spreading evenly over bottom. Cover and set aside.
To Prepare the Center Layer:
4 c. (1 L) medium-to-small shell pasta
4 c. (1 L) fresh spinach leaves, stemmed; or two 10-½ oz. (300 g) packages frozen spinach
Two 7-1/2 oz. (213 g) cans salmon or tuna, drained (see Seafood Note)
1/2 c. (250 mL) finely chopped onion
3/4 c. (185 mL) fresh mushrooms, preferably fresh (see Mushroom Note)
1/4 c. (60 mL) finely grated Parmesan cheese (I like a combination of fresh and commercially powdered shake-on Parmesan)
1/4 tsp. (1.25 mL) garlic powder
1/4 tsp. (1.25 mL) black pepper
1 tsp. (5 mL) oregano (if using fresh, chopped fine)
Preheat oven to 375 deg. F. Assemble and measure ingredients before starting.
Cook pasta according to package directions in a large amount of boiling, salted water about 10 min. or until barely tender but not fully cooked, Rinse, drain, and set aside, occasionally tossing with small amount of cold water, to keep pasta from drying out.
As pasta cooks, chop and stem fresh spinach leaves; if using frozen spinach, drain well. Over high heat, add just enough water to skillet or steamer pot to steam fresh spinach leaves 3 min., or until wilted or to fully thaw frozen spinach. Remove from heat, draining well. Set aside.
Flake tinned seafood into small chunks, reserving, freezing, and labeling fish juice for making fish stock.
In small bowl, combine garlic powder, black pepper, and oregano.
To large bowl, add prepared pasta shells, spinach, seafood, onion, mushrooms, and combined seasonings, mixing well but without damaging pasta shells. Spoon over tomato sauce in casserole, carefully spreading to edges of dish.
Cover casserole lightly with foil as you prepare the Cheese Sauce Topping.
To Prepare the Cheese Sauce Topping:
1/3 c. (80 mL) butter or margarine
1/3 c. (80 mL) flour
1-3/4 c. (425 mL) milk
Pepper, as desired
3/4 c. (175 mL) grated Parmesan cheese (again, I like a combination of fresh and commercially powdered shake-on Parmesan)
3 tbsp. (45 mL) finely chopped fresh parsley, as garnish
Additional grated Parmesan, as garnish
In medium saucepan over low medium heat, melt butter, gradually stirring in flour. Slowly add milk, continuing to stir until thickened and smooth. Add pepper, cheese, and parsley. Pour sauce over casserole, covering right to the edge.
Cover tightly with foil. Bake 35 min., removing foil for final 15 min. Serve immediately.
Seafood Note: Small cans of seafood come in different measurements in different places. Chances are, what was once a standard size is now smaller, with its price, higher. Use an amount that feels “right” for you - but don’t overdo it. Keeping the amount of seafood small will allow the other flavors in this dish to strut their stuff. Fresh or frozen fish is also fine, but I prefer the convenience and stronger flavor of canned fish for this recipe.
Mushroom Note: In a pinch, I’ll hold my nose and use canned mushrooms, but what I generally do is buy large, fresh mushrooms in quantity when they go on sale. To save time, I section mushrooms with an egg slicer. Lightly sautéing them in butter or margarine, I pack 1/2 c. (125 mL) buttered, prepared mushrooms into small, lidded, labeled containers bound for the freezer. Don’t waste the butter: Include it when you add prepared mushrooms to recipes that require cooking. Ultimately, batch-prepping like this is a great time-saver.
Make-Ahead Note: Covered with foil, the unbaked casserole may be refrigerated to be baked the next day.If so, increase total baking time to 45 min., removing foil for final 15 min.