I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to give you all this recipe. I must have eaten this for dinner at least three days a week in college. This, macaroni and cheese, pizza and quesadillas. Really just all things with cheese.
Back in the Midwest there’s a glorious “fast-casual” chain called Noodles & Company. It’s such an amazing place and I have a deep love for it. Definitely on the top ten most-missed Midwest things. When my mom helped move me down here we were both so hungry as we pulled into Phoenix. The dinner decision was quick and unanimous—we would go to Noodles quick before heading to the hotel. To our utter dismay there was not a single Noodles & Co in the area—no, in the state even! It was heartbreaking. To this day, anytime I’m in a city with a Noodles, I snatch some up and savor every bite. Last week in Denver, I brought my saucy noodles through security at the airport and slurped them down at the gate. So satisfying. Between Noodles and Chipotle, I could go without ever stepping in a grocery store ever again (not really, but pretty much).
One of my favorite and most frequently ordered Noodles dishes was the Whole Grain Tuscan Fresca, but with the gluten free rice noodles. My mom and I always loved making a garlicky, olive oil-based pasta dish with wilted spinach leaves and this dish emulated that, but with an extra kick—balsamic. Genius. Especially for us balsamic lovers. It only took about five visits to Noodles and one taste of the creamy pesto dish they had (I’m terrible at cream sauces, remember? So this is now my go-to Noodles order) to realize the pasta fresca can easily be whipped up right at home. All it takes is boiling the penne, sauteing up fresh onion, tomato and spinach in a garlicky olive oil bath, adding the noodles and tossing it all with balsamic and some cheese for good measure. Always cheese.
- 1⅓ cup dry penne pasta (I use gluten free Barilla)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ onion, sliced
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- ½ cup sliced mushrooms (optional)
- 2–3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 cups fresh spinach
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- Salt & pepper
- Grated Parmesan or mozzarella cheese
- Cook pasta according to package instructions.
- Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and mushrooms, if desired, and cook until soft. Add the tomatoes and garlic and toss until aromatic, then lower heat.
- Add the cooked pasta and spinach and stir until spinach is wilted. Toss with the balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.
- Top with a little grated Parmesan or mozzarella cheese and serve.