Penne and Cheese with Spinach and Tomatoes

There’s nothing like a rainy Friday in the fall to spark a hankering for some genuine comfort food. Mac and Cheese, of course, is at the very top of the comfort food list, and over the years we’ve switched it up a bit with whole wheat penne, spinach and tomatoes — to the point that some real nutrition now trumps the fat and carbs.penne and cheese ingredients

And another beautiful thing about this dish: unlike say, a cake, where getting the proportions right matters, pasta is a completely open-ended proposition. Less of this and more of that tends to work just fine, or even lead to a great discovery. That’s a good thing on a Friday night when no stress and not bothering with a recipe are big goals.

Take tonight for instance: I had my heart set on this delicious combination only to discover a critical milk shortage. I gave serious thought to mixing in some almond milk, and then upon opening the can of diced tomatoes, I had a Eureka moment, realizing that the tomato juice in the can could stand in as a tasty — and fat free — liquid to extend the cheese sauce and maybe even add a tasty new dimension to mac and cheese. And it did. Combined with a simple side salad, life was good.penne and cheese on a plate with a salad


  • 10 oz. whole wheat penne
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 Tbsp. flour
  • 2 cups milk (or a mix of another liquid such as the juice canned tomatoes)
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 14 1/2 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar, colby or Monterey Jack cheese
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 2 oz. parmesan


  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Cook pasta according to package directions — draining while it is still slightly al dente.
  • Melt butter in a heavy skillet and add flour, whisking vigorously. When flour is fully incorporated, add milk in a slow stream, continuing to whisk and ensure that no lumps have a chance to form. Mixture should thicken quickly. Add more milk if it appears too thick.
  • Add shredded cheese along with cream cheese, diced tomatoes, spinach, salt and pepper. Stir until spinach wilts and cream cheese melts. Add pasta.
  • Coat baking dish with cooking spray and pour pasta mixture into prepared dish. Top with 2 oz. of shredded parmesan.
  • Bake for 20 minutes.