We are not the first ones to rediscover the comforting qualities of a good casserole. Maybe you remember the one your grandmother or mom used to make when you were younger. Perhaps it was the first dish you learned how to create yourself during the inception of your cooking trials. It could be that you just love anything that calls for tossing a bunch of food in a dish and baking it. Relatively utter simplicity. No matter, the casserole seems to stand for all things warm, homey, reassuring and soothing. It’s full of flavor, love and hopefully lots of cheese. This casserole is all of those things, including the cheese. It’s full of veggies, pasta and meat too. Each bite harks back to a mouthful of contented solace. Would you like a piece?
Note: We should invest in a deep dish baking dish. Something that’s at least 5 inches high perhaps. That way, when we go at this again, we can really pile on a few more layers. If we had had room, there would’ve been slices of eggplant, asparagus and green peppers. Unfortunately, they had to stay out of this round. Next time, it will be an even bigger vegetable extravaganza! Instead of tomatoes, we actually used a cup of leftover, defrosted marinara sauce, but you can choose whatever road you like. As usual, we tossed lots of fresh parsley on top, which never fails to please.
Beef and Vegetable Penne Casserole - Serves 6 to 8
1/2 pound penne pasta
3/4 pound ground beef
1/2 red onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 large tomatoes, sliced
1 zucchini, sliced
1 yellow squash, sliced
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
3 cups spinach leaves
1 1/2 cups low fat cottage cheese
2 eggs, whisked
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
12-15 leaves basil plus extra for garnish
3/4 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
3/4 cup cheddar cheese, shredded
1. Cook pasta salted water for the minimum cooking time suggested, approximately 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. In a pan, swirl a bit of olive oil in a pan and add garlic and onions. Cook down, stirring occasionally, until onions soften.
3. Add beef to pan with salt, nutmeg and red pepper flakes. Cook meat until almost completely browned, approximately 5-7 minutes. Take off the heat.
4. Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray and press pasta down on bottom layer. Top with cooked beef mixture then tomatoes.
5. In a small bowl, mix cottage cheese with eggs and spread over the tomatoes.
6. Layer the spinach leaves, followed by red peppers then mushrooms. Alternate zucchini and squash in rows on the very top. Tuck the basil leaves in between the zucchini and squash pieces.
7. Sprinkle the cheddar and mozzarella on top and cover with aluminum foil. Bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Raise oven heat to 450, remove foil and bake another 5-10 minutes or until bubbly and cheese browns slightly. Allow to rest at least 10 minutes after taking it out of the oven. Sprinkle with extra basil.
Click HERE for the printable recipe.