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James van Riemsdyk's Power Play Penne

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Celebrate JvR's 26th birthday with a delicious new recipe from the Species Test Kitchen.

Power suit. Power Playa.
Power suit. Power Playa.
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

It's been about 7 months since CBC published the recipe for Mike Fisher's Slap Shot Spaghetti, and since I published my review of said abomination.

It was obvious from the start that the recipe could be improved in many ways. Even the basic concept is odd. A spaghetti casserole? What kind of twisted culinary mind would think of making that? Oh, right. Then there was the odd ingredient choices; like a can cream of mushroom soup, and a can of sliced olives. Talk about a salt overload! While it was edible, it was really better for just throwing at random people.

I decided to rectify this monstrosity by creating a new recipe that would be tastier, healthier, and almost as easy to make. The inspiration came from my favourite hockey prisoner player, and real life boyfriend, James van Riemsdyk. What better day to share this with all of you than today, his birthday!

James was born and raised in Middletown New Jersey. Middletown is really a collection of suburban towns and developments located on the south side of the bay from Staten Island and New York City, and a little north of another famous part of New Jersey.

Based on the 3 minutes I spent looking around Middletown on Google Street View, it's equivalent in the Toronto area would be Durham Region, though Middletown has more evil clown signs.

According to Wikipedia, several moderately famous people have come from Middletown, including: Mary Kay Adams, a soap star, and an occasional cameo actor in some sci-fi shows, like Deep Space Nine; and filmmaker, and hockey fan, Kevin Smith.

There's also some more infamous people: like the Air Canada Centre concert hall of fame's first inductee (ugh!) Jon Bon Jovi; and a few of America's most talented, and esteemed journalists: Connie Chung, Maury Povich, Geraldo Rivera, and Brian Williams.

So that's a pretty poor crop of local celebrities. Thankfully, Middletown has been pulled out of the gutter with the emergence of the van Riemsdyk family. James, and his brothers, Trevor and Brendan, all played hockey for Christian Brothers Academy school, then all moved on to the University of New Hampshire.

Both James and Trevor have made it to the NHL. Trevor plays defense while Brendan plays center. Brendan is still only 19 and is just starting his first year at UNH. He has not been drafted, but neither was the allegedly number one center who happens to play with Brendan's big brother.

I thought it was about time Mike Fisher was dethroned as the king of hockey player pasta casseroles. JvR, being from a state with one of the largest Italian-American populations, should be the one to hold that title! But van Riemsdyk isn't exactly an Italian name, it's Dutch. The question was how to incorporate both of those culinary heritages into one delicious dish.

Ziti was the first thing that came to my mind. It's a classic, but a little predictable. Then I thought about sausage and peppers, but how do you make that into a casserole. The answer was obvious.

A baked ziti with sausage and peppers! Mmmmm sausage. Unfortunately, coming up with a good hockey term  alliteration that starts with Z was rather difficult. I couldn't think of anything other than Zamboni Ziti. I guess I'll leave that one available for another player.

Then there was the matter of the Dutch angle to the casserole. Herring wasn't really an option, sorry Holland. Fortunately, there are many delicious Dutch cheeses. Edam and gouda are both readily available and were a perfect replacement for mozzarella and cheddar. I kept in parmesan because it just tastes so good.

I still felt the casserole needed something else to add additional flavour. Since I was already going to roast the peppers, I thought why not roast another vegetable. The answer hit me right in the face: eggplant.

It's easy to roast along with the peppers, and the tender flesh would just melt in to the whole dish.

It was official: James van Riemsdyk's Power Play Penne was born.

I haven't written out a recipe for this, but improvisation is fine. What I used was 1 large eggplant; 2 orange bell peppers; 3 Italian sausages, I recommend hot; about 700 grams or 1.5 pounds of penne (that left a little extra); 150 grams each of smoked gouda, parmesan, and edam; and about 1 litre (4 cups) of sauce. This makes enough to feed six or seven adults with a side salad, or one governor of New Jersey. I can attest that the leftovers are great. You can also assemble it in advance, keep it in the fridge, and bake the next day.

You can use any sauce you like, homemade or not, but if you use a store bought sauce make sure it's not too sweet or too salty. The salt can get out of control fast in a recipe like this. A great recipe for a no fuss, quick, homemade sauce is here. Alternatively you can ask Viktor Loov for his recipe.

I roasted the eggplant and peppers in the oven. You don't have to slice the eggplant in thin slices like I did; you can just cut it in half, roast it, and scoop out the flesh out of the skin when it's done; but more pieces means more surface area to brown, which is delicious.

Just remember if you do slice it like I did, peel the skin off first, as it was a pain to get it off after it was already roasted. I crumbled the sausage into a pan, fried it, drained the fat, and then mixed it with the roasted eggplant and diced roasted peppers.

Remember to deliberately under cook your penne a bit, it will finish cooking in the oven. I tossed the penne with a little bit of sauce, and then all was ready to assemble. You can put it together in the layers of your choice. Mine were, from the bottom up: pasta, meat/veg mixture, sauce, gouda/edam cheese; then I repeated that again, and added some parmesan on top. The results were delicious!

But the important question is would JvR like it?