Almost Cheeseless Pasta Casserole

032.jpg
 Whole grain pasta casserole with roasted squash, feta, olives and a creamy Greek yogurt sauce. 

If you've ever talked food with me before, then you're aware of my not-so-minor obsession with cheese.  So it may be disconcerting to see something advertised as "almost cheeseless" on my site, as if that were a good thing.

There are few things in life I love more than a good cheese plate.  Or my favorite macaroni and cheese.  Mmm...and now that you've got me thinking, lasagna with a gooey, cheesy top is pretty fantastic too. But these rich dishes are best left for holidays and special occasions...and sometimes Tuesday night.

Despite the lightened ingredients, this pasta casserole is just as hearty and satisfying as any of the aforementioned cheesy classics.  The sauce is made from 2% Greek yogurt.  Sounds odd, and I certainly had my doubts, but it actually turns into a ricotta cheese-like consistency after baking.  Roasted butternut squash ups the creaminess and gives the dish a hint of sweetness.  Toasted almonds add crunch and play off the nuttiness of whole grain pasta, while olives and feta pack a punch of briny, salty flavor. 

Heidi from 101 Cookbooks (I've been following her blog so long I feel like we're on first name basis), suggests using this recipe as a template and swapping out the veggies for what's in season.  I love her idea for using asparagus and dill in the spring, but I think next time I'll try a caprese inspired version with oven-roasted tomatoes, spinach, basil and mozzarella.

Winter Squash

One cup of winter squash contains 200% daily value of vitamin A and about 30% daily value for vitamin C.  Considering squash is a low fat food, I was surprised to learn the same size serving provides 8% daily needs for omega-3 fats.  We tend to think of omega-3s as a nutrient only found in fatty fish, but there are small amounts in many plant based foods that can add up over the course of the day.  Good to know for vegetarians, vegans and those who are concerned about mercury, like pregnant women and parents of small children. Squash may be a starchy vegetable, but studies have shown the main type of starch in squash can help our body use insulin more effectively.

Almonds

Many people needlessly avoid nuts over concerns about calorie content, yet studies consistently show nuts can actually help you lose weight. Full of fiber and healthy fats, nuts are satiating, so a little goes a long way.  Nuts are a fantastic addition to your diet to promote heart health, as they effective at lowering LDL, or bad cholesterol and contain many anti-inflammatory antioxidants.  Compared to other nuts, almonds are by far richest source of vitamin E with 33% daily value, compared to 1-5% in most other nuts!  They also contain more calcium than any other nut.

Olives

One of my absolute favorites! Just like olive oil, olives are considered a superfood.  But the olive itself contains unique nutrient compounds, like hydroxytyrolsol, which is linked to cancer protection and bone health, and oleupurin, an antioxidant which inhibits the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.  Olives are also known to have one of the most diverse ranges of phytonutrients - terpenes, phenols, hydroxycinnamic acids, and flavanoids are all found in olives. 

 

 

Almost Cheeseless Pasta Casserole
Author: Rachael Hartley, RD, LD, CDE
Serves: serves 4
Adapted from[url href="http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/almost-cheeseless-pasta-casserole-recipe.html" target="_blank"] 101 Cookbooks [/url]
Ingredients
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 8 ounces whole grain pasta (I used a whole wheat penne)
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups winter squash,in 1/2 inch cubes
  • 1 bunch of kale, spinach or chard, cut into ribbons
  • 2 cups 2% plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup almonds, chopped and toasted
  • 1/4 cup kalamata olives or other oil-cured black olive, chopped roughly
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss squash with olive oil. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes, until tender and browned.
  2. Meanwhile, rub an 8 x 12 inch baking dish with olive oil. Sprinkle evenly with lemon zest and set aside.
  3. Cook the pasta in boiling water until al dente. A few seconds before you stop cooking the pasta, add the kale. Drain and run through cold water to stop the cooking process.
  4. While the pasta cooks, mix the yogurt, eggs, garlic and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  5. Once the pasta-kale mixture and squash are cooked, add to the yogurt sauce along with half of the almonds. Mix to coat the pasta evenly with sauce. Scoop into the baking dish. Top with olives and feta.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle fresh mint and remaining almonds over the top.

 

1 Comment