One of my friends is a vegetarian who has a fairly lengthy list of food sensitivities—tomatoes, bell peppers, eggplant, bananas and some types of beans, to name a few—so I was excited for the "challenge" of preparing a dish for her for the potluck.
I envisioned a casserole... actually, I was enticed by the Amateur Gourmet's BEST CASSEROLE EVER (capitalization my own), but then quickly realized that the BEST CASSEROLE EVER involved buying almost 2 lb of good cheese and 1 lb of shiitake mushrooms. Yikes! Make that the Most Expensive Casserole Ever!
So I opened up my Google Reader (which I've recently pared down to a "more manageable" 96 feeds), clicked on my "casserole" tag and browsed, and I found this little number on 101 Cookbooks. It was not your usual lasagna or mac & cheese, and I can almost taste the al dente pasta and bubbly cheese just by looking at Heidi's spectacular photography. Yum...
As I mentioned in my previous post, I was running a little late in my food preparations that day (Full Disclosure: I drank too much the night before and therefore slept in, delaying my trip to the grocery store.) so by the time I was chopping up the vegetables for this recipe, my first guests were beginning to arrive. So between trying to be entertaining, chopping and sautéing spinach, boiling pasta and toasting (and burning!) almonds, I forgot a crucial step before throwing the casserole into the oven - covering it with foil! The pasta ended up roasting in the heat and becoming chewy :( The casserole itself was a good concept though. I had bites of the spinach and almond mixture in the pan before it was combined with the pasta and it was tasty. The lemon zest added a zippy, citrus note to the dish, while the spinach added a welcome shot of colour.
I did manage to "salvage" some of the leftovers the next day by heating it in the microwave with a little bit of water, but I think the recipe itself needs a little tweaking; between the lemon, spinach and almonds, the pasta had a bit of a sweetness to it that would've probably been better if it was counterbalanced by a stronger, sharper cheese as opposed to the mozzarella.
*sigh* Maybe I should've spent that extra money on the BEST CASSEROLE EVER.
Baked Pasta Casserole
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks
Serves 8 (Makes a 9" x 13" casserole)
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 340 g (¾ lb) whole wheat pasta (She used shells, I used farfalle)
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 L (4 cups) well-chopped fresh spinach
- 375 mL (1½ cups) sliced almonds, lightly toasted, divided
- Zest of 2 lemons
- 227 g (8 oz) mozzarella, shredded or torn into little pieces
Nutrition Info (per serving): 404 calories, 19 g fat (5 g saturated), 22 mg cholesterol, 41 g carbohydrate (7 g fibre, 4 g sugar), 19 g protein, 196 mg sodium. An excellent source of riboflavin (vitamin B2), folate, vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium. A good source of thiamin (vitamin B1), niacin (vitamin B3) and calcium.
- Preheat the oven to 190˚C (375˚F). Butter/oil a 9" x 13" casserole dish or baking pan.
- Prepare pasta as per package instructions. Drain and toss with a "glug" of olive oil. Set aside.
- While the pasta's cooking, heat a bit of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high. Sauté the onions for a few minutes (or if you want a bit more depth of flavor until caramelized). Stir in garlic. Stir in spinach. Cook for just about 20 seconds, until the spinach collapses a bit. Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of the almonds and ½ of the zest. Add to pasta and stir and stir - mixing extremely well, a minute or so.
- Sprinkle the bottom of baking dish with remaing zest. Add a layer of the pasta to the bottom of the baking pan, sprinkle with some of the cheese, add more pasta, then more cheese. Finish with a layer of cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes or until cheese on top is bubbly and melty. Serve sprinkled with the remaining almonds.