As soon as I read the recipe for "Wild West Pasta Bake" (page 224), I thought it looked like so much fun! It called for wagon wheel pasta! Anything with wagon wheel pasta is bound to be fun, right? Except...I couldn't find wagon wheel pasta. I didn't let that stop me though; I just looked for different pasta that would come close to emulating wagon wheels, and after at least 15 minutes of staring at all the different pastas in the pasta aisle, I decided on the Radiatori. Sometimes it is frustrating living somewhere with limited grocery options, but the challenge can also be fun.
This dish combines the cooked pasta with a sauce, half of which was pureed, consisting of canned tomato products, pinto beans, and Mexican spices, topped with pumpkin seeds, and baked in the oven. The only oil called for in this recipe was for sautéing the garlic, but I just bypassed the sauté step altogether and added fresh garlic to the sauce, since everything was going into the oven anyway. As I mentioned before, I prefer the ratio of ingredients in my pasta dishes to be heavier on the sauce, lighter on the pasta, so I decreased the amount of pasta from one pound to 12 ounces. I still could have used a little more sauce, but it worked out okay.
This was a very tasty dish. The pumpkin seeds added an interesting crunch, but I don't think I would have missed them - good news if you don't really want to add the extra fat and calories. The total baking time was supposed to be 30 minutes covered, 10 minutes uncovered, but it was more than ready after the 30 minutes, so I stopped there. I did not use whole grain pasta, so once again, I found this to be the hardest part of my challenge to overcome. Plan to feed a crowd if you prepare this dish, it makes a lot!