The freshman 15 is a series of 15 "classes" designed specifically for one of my twitter followers, @jontilton.  Starting his junior year at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan he was challenged with learning to cook for himself and asked me for some advice.  So I decided that college kids everywhere could use probably use a few cooking tips... and thus the freshman 15 was born.  Feel free to join along in the "lessons", even if you're not a college student!

« week 4: veggie tales | week 2: crock-pot chicken casablanca »

week 3: pass the pasta

Let's face it, being broke sucks.  But just because you're a college student (or anyone in this economy really), doesn't mean you have to feel down.  At least not when in comes to dinner.  You see, I have a theory that when you say "chorizo" people automatically think you're fancy.  Why?  Because "chorizo" sounds better than "sausage".  It's sort of like when you go into a restaurant and the ingredients of the dish are listed in the title "prawns topped with a tomato purée and a citrus-infused horseradish creme" sounds more impressive than "shrimp cocktail".  Even if they are the same thing.

Basically what I'm saying is, don't sell yourself short.  There are a lot of ways to cook on the cheap, and still be healthy about it.  One of life's staples as anyone under 30 will tell you, is pasta.  In my case I eat multigrain or whole grain pastas, which sound much grosser than they are.  In fact many of them these days are very good.  And because they're full of grains, you don't need to eat as much to feel full.  In fact, if you overeat you'll feel like a bird who ate too much rice.

This recipe will serve you, your roommate & their friend plus leftovers for the next day.

you will need:

  • 2 pots
  • a wooden spoon
  • an ovenproof 3 quart casserole dish
  • a food processor
  • a bowl


  • 2 1/2 cups (dry) whole grain rigatini (I use Prairie Harvest, but Catelli makes great whole grain options basically you want a short tube pasta shape)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-2 links of chorizo, diced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 20 oz can Marinara sauce (I use Trader Joe's, use something without sugar, read the labels, or just tomato puree works)
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar (don't use any other type of vinegar, it's not the same)
  • 2 slices sprouted grain bread (or whole grain, not whole wheat, I use Silver Hills 16 Grain)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled light feta cheese

Basically what you're going to be doing with this dish is making a sauce, cooking some pasta, and then mixing the 2 in a casserole dish and baking it.

First thing you'll need to do is make the sauce.  Cooking well has a lot to do with timing things right to make sure they come together, so this is good practice.  It takes longer to cook the sauce than the pasta, so that's where you start.

Put your pot on the stove on medium heat.  Give it about 30 seconds until you can feel it start to get warm and then add in 1 tbsp of olive oil.  Swish the pot around so the oil coats the bottom.

Next put your diced up onion & chorizo in the pot.  Allow these to cook until the chorizo begins to brown a bit (about 5 minutes). Stir it around every once in a while and make sure nothing sticks.

Once the onion is starting to cook & the chorizo is browning add in your garlic and give it all a stir.  Tip: never add your onion and garlic at the same time.  I know it looks like it would make sense, but garlic takes less time to cook and you'll end up burning it most often.

Add in your marinara sauce, basil & vinegar give everything another stir and reduce the heat to low.  Keep your eye on it and stir it every so often because otherwise it'll start to bubble all over the place.  You can leave this cooking another 15 minutes or so, and then let it cool until you're ready to assemble the pasta.

Put water on the stove to boil & cook your pasta according to the package directions.  Make sure you cook it al dente, using the lowest suggested time on the package.  Make sure you drain it right away and don't overcook it!

Drain your pasta and add it into the 3 quart casserole dish.  The one I use is round, but you can use a square one, it doesn't really matter.  Add in your sauce and mix it around until all the pasta is covered.  At this time add in 1/4 cup of the feta cheese and mix it in too.

Tip: Never put hot ingredients directly on your countertops.  I'd recommend putting a trivet underneath the casserole dish first, as you are going to be pouring hot pasta & hot sauce into it... which in turn will heat up the dish.

The next part is making the topping.  It's at this moment that I'd suggest turning on your oven and preheating it to 375F.

To make the topping take your 2 slices of bread and throw them in a food processor.  Pulse the bread a few times and you'll get nice fresh breadcrumbs.  I know you're probably thinking that making your own breadcrumbs is weird because you can just buy them in a store, but here's why you should.  First of all, you most likely already have bread in your house so you don't have to buy anything extra.  Second, when you make your own you get to choose the type of bread used, so you can use a healthier alternative like whole grain bread.  Third, it allows you to determine the size of your crumbs.  I like mine a little rougher than the finely milled stuff you get in the store.  It should be noted that you can't make them ahead of time, and they don't store well, so just make what you need.

Pour your freshly made bread crumbs into a bowl and add the rest of the crumbled feta cheese to them.  Toss them together until totally mixed, then spread them on the top of the pasta in the casserole dish.  You're doing this to create a nice crunchy crust on the top when you bake it.  (trust me, it's yummy)

When you're ready toss it in the oven for about 30 minutes, or until the crust turns brown.

When I made this I wanted to get all the dirty work out of the way before I had to worry about eating it.  So I ended up throwing the cold dish in the fridge for a couple of hours before dinner, which you can do if you're waiting on company to come over or something.  Or if you have time in the morning, but then have to run to a class, this is great because you can pop it in the oven for dinner when you come home.  I wouldn't leave it too long, but a few hours is fine.


music suggestion: the beatles - 1962-1966

Normally I suggest listening to Italian themed music when making pasta, but this kind of retro-casserole comfort-food chic deserves a little throwback music.  May I recommend something from the Beatles catalog?

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