Prawn, Spinach & Pasta Bake with Walnut Topping

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Sometimes you just need a little comfort food. I had some mushrooms, leek and baby spinach in the fridge and wanted to use them up. So I looked online to find something suitably yummy and found a pasta bake recipe with spinach and cheese on BBC Good Food.com.

I adapted it a fair bit, adding mushrooms and prawns. I used gluten-free pasta and cut out the bread part of the topping altogether. I also read the comments under the original recipe and saw that some people found the recipe a bit bland, so I increased the amount of mustard and added in some parmesan cheese to heighten the flavour. And boy oh boy, it sure tasted good – I helped myself to a double portion!

This recipe allows for real flexibility – you could substitute whatever you happen to have on hand – broccoli instead of the spinach, bacon bits instead of the walnuts, chicken instead of the prawns  – or cut out the meat/fish altogether and make it vegetarian, as per the original recipe. And just a note about ingredient quantities: I personally found it a bit stodgy the first time I made it, so next time around I cut back on the amounts of pasta, cheese and spinach by about a third so that there was more sauce. I’ve kept the recipe pretty much as it was originally though, so use your own judgement on quantities.


PRAWN, SPINACH & PASTA BAKE WITH WALNUT TOPPING

Serves 8 (makes two large casseroles – you could freeze one and eat the other or, if you don’t want to make so much, simply halve the recipe as I did)

Ingredients: (Click here for unit converter)

  • 500g penne or other pasta (I used gluten-free pasta)
  • 2 large leeks, sliced
  • 250g button mushrooms
  • 250g prawns
  • 85g butter
  • 85g plain flour
  • 4 tsp English mustard
  • Good grating of nutmeg to taste
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • 1 litre milk (and a little extra to thin the sauce if needed)
  • 350g tasty cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 85g walnut pieces, chopped
  • 400g spinach (I used baby spinach)

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 190°C (370°F). Boil the pasta until al dente, then drain and put aside.
  2. Gently fry the leeks, mushrooms and prawns in oil until just tender (don’t overcook them as they will cook further in the oven). Put aside.
  3. Meanwhile, put the butter into a big, heavy saucepan on high heat. At the point it’s melted, toss in the flour and quickly stir in. When it’s just combined with no lumps, pour in a little of the milk (about half a cup). Stir vigorously until it becomes smooth, add more milk, stir till smooth, and so on.
  4. Turn down the heat to low. Now add the mustard and nutmeg, and salt and pepper to season. Cook for 2 mins more, stirring constantly.
  5. Remove from the heat and stir in two-thirds of the cheese, plus the extra parmesan. Taste test to see if it’s seasoned well and adjust seasoning if necessary. Add the spinach, the leeks and prawns, as well as the cooked pasta. If the mixture’s too thick, add a little extra milk to loosen it.
  6. Put the mixture into two ovenproof dishes (if you’re cooking it all now) and scatter the remaining cheese and chopped walnuts over top. Bake for 40 mins until golden brown and bubbling. You could make this ahead as it freezes well (and tastes even better once frozen!).

Food Photography Info: Canon 550D (EOS Rebel T2i); Canon 50mm 1.8 lens / Natural lighting

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