Today's recipe is a copycat of Macaroni Grill's Penne Rustica. It is loosely based on that deliciously creamy baked pasta dish that Macaroni Grill is famous for. Delizioso!
When we lived in California, we used to eat at Macaroni Grill often and their Penne Rustica dish was always our go-to. Once we moved to the Midwest, we no longer had a Macaroni Grill easily within driving distance. So to fix our cravings for this tasty dish, I came up with a version I could make at home that we love.
And even better, it all starts in the slow cooker. Starting this meal in the slow cooker and allowing it to cook away for just a few short hours, makes it an easy meal to get on the table during even a busy weeknight.
We're going to start by adding most of the main ingredients to the slow cooker, reserving the pasta, shrimp and mozzarella for later. In the picture above, I have Half and Half. You can use either Half and Half or Heavy Whipping Cream, although I really like to use the heavy cream if I have it because it gives the sauce a thicker, creamier consistency. But, you can use whatever you have on-hand, I am all about using up what you already have.
I usually add all of the main components, minus the heavy cream, to the slow cooker. Then I pour in the heavy cream and give it a good stir.
After the sauce has had time to cook and thicken in the slow cooker, it will resemble a very hearty alfredo.
About an hour before serving time, you will cook the pasta. After the pasta is cooked and drained, then you can stir both the pasta and the shrimp into the sauce in the slow cooker. Ladle the mixture into oven proof baking dishes, top with the reserved mozzarella and bake away.
Slow Cooker Penne Rustica
1 box penne pasta
1 lb cooked shrimp, tails removed
1/4 cup cooked, crumbled bacon
1 red onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced small
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 tsp paprika
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
2 cups heavy cream (or half and half)
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp chicken base
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/4 tsp cayenne
Add all ingredients, except pasta, shrimp and mozzarella, to slow cooker. Cook on High for 2-3 hours. Cook pasta until al dente, drain. Stir shrimp and pasta into sauce in slow cooker. Spoon mixture into oven-safe serving dishes. Top with shredded mozzarella cheese.
Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, until cheese is turning golden brown and sauce is bubbly.
This dish is so incredibly delicious. If you are trying to watch your carb intake, you can swap out the penne pasta for cooked spaghetti squash. Either way, the combination of creamy sauce and shrimp is amazing!