Thursday, March 22, 2012

cheesy broccoli & pasta casserole

I did not grow up on casseroles. I grew up with casserole dishes used as serving dishes, but that's really as close as things get. Those green bean casseroles everyone sees around Thanksgiving? Alien to me. Tuna casserole I know of, and I even know the way my nanny made them; I've never been served it. I don't think I've even eaten it, to be honest. Past roommates have made casseroles, so I've seen them. In theory I get the can of mushroom soup + chicken + rice or pasta = dinner equation.

But I've never really done casseroles. I've had this growing affair, though, with gratins. The broccoli/cauliflower gratin I made when Bunny's sister was here, the parsnip/carrot one I've made a few times; they just make me want to make more. In theory, I think a casserole would not be that different from a gratin. So, towards the casserole we go.

All afternoon I've been thinking about a baked pasta. But I don't want to go the mac-and-cheese route, that would be too heavy. I want some greenery in my dinner, some heft to the nutritional value. Something with a bit of a crunch, to give a bit of a textural contrast.

In my head there was broccoli. A heavier sauce: a bechamel, maybe even with cheese. Not cheddar, or gouda: something a little bit different. Mozzarella, for gooiness; parmesan for flavour.

Cheesy Broccoli Pasta Casserole

Ingredients
  • 1/2 package of dry pasta - I used rotini
  • 1 head of broccoli, cut into florets & disks
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 2 tbsp butter/margarine
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • salt - 1/2 tsp for the sauce, plus more for salting your water
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp olive oil
Directions

  1. In large pot of boiling water, cook pasta according to package directions. In the last 2 or 3 minutes of cooking, add the broccoli. This gets the broccoli started just enough that it will finish in the oven.
  2. Put pasta and broccoli in a large casserole dish. Set aside.
  3. In a small saute pan, heat the olive oil. When hot, add garlic and red onion, saute 3 - 5 minutes, until translucent. When these are beautiful and smell lovely, add them into the casserole dish with the broccoli and pasta. Mix everything together well until it is evenly mixed.
  4. Preheat oven to 350*. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter or margarine. Add flour and wisk to make a roux. Cook about 3-4 minutes to allow the rawness of the flour to cook off. Add the milk, as well as salt, garlic powder and thyme. Wisk to combine. Cook over medium heat until the milk thickens and begins to bubble, wisking occasionally. (In my experience, the bubbles are the key that your bechamel is ready for the next step. The bubbles will be about the size of a quarter.)
  5. When the bechamel has thickened, turn heat to low. Slowly add mozzarella cheese into the sauce, stirring to incorporate. Once all mozzarella is combined, add half of the parmesan. Stir until melted into the sauce.
  6. Pour the sauce over the broccoli and pasta. Using spoons or tongs, toss until all the casserole contents are evenly coated with sauce.
  7. Combine remaining parmesan with breadcrumbs, sprinkle on top of the casserole.
  8. Bake for 20-25 minutes.
  9. Eat. Enjoy. Share. Freeze some for lunch next week, even.
Notes
  • Cheeses: I went with mozzarella and parmesan largely because a) I had them on hand and b) I wanted more subtle flavours. If you want a stronger cheesy flavour, go with something stronger.
  • I find that at least 2 cups of milk is necessary for keeping everything well coated and moist through the cooking process. Any less and you end up with kind of crusty, dry pasta. Don't do that.
  • This is a very mild flavoured dish. Bunny doused his in hot sauce (he's on a kick) but I found it was a nice as a calmer dish. Very kid-friendly.
  • Of course you can change out the broccoli for other vegetables if you'd prefer. Broccoli is just one of our favourites.

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