Almost Cheeseless Pasta Casserole

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.

Almost Cheeseless Pasta Casserole

serves 4

Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

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.