Thursday, June 03, 2010

Broccoli and Pasta Casseroles...

It's funny when I think a few years back, probably seven or eight, when neither Jeff nor I ever cared much about what we ate - it was always eating out or having whatever we could prepare quickly (and it showed). You'd rarely, if ever, find any sort of fresh vegetable in the refrigerator, and even when we made the decision to start making food at home, it was a slow integration process. Back then, if I knew what I would be eating now, I would have laughed and said "um, yeah - if you say so!".

That's why, when I think about this Broccoli and Pasta Casseroles dish that we made tonight, I'm thankful that we made the conscious decision to change when we did.

Some of the ingredients used in this, broccoli, onions, ricotta cheese and pasta, may be common fare for some and they happen to be staples for us now, but I wouldn't have gone near them before (I know I've mentioned this before, but I didn't even start eating pasta until I was around 23!). When I think about it, I can't believe how much good food I missed out on!

To get us going on the recipe, we needed to get the pasta and broccoli going - to simplify the cooking process, we cooked the two together in the same pot of salted water, adding the florets and peeled stems during the last two minutes of the pasta cooking time. While those two were working, I kept busy starting on the light, milky sauce by softening a cup of diced onion, then adding a few sprinkles of flour and dry mustard. Be sure to stir this around the pot for a minute or so, giving the flour time to cook its rawness out. Whisking in a steady stream, you'll want to pour the milk into the pot gradually, which makes sure the flour dissolves evenly without leaving tiny nuggets behind. Cooked until it just begins to thicken (it will be on the thin side still), a scoop of ricotta and plenty of salty Parmesan cheese are stirred in, off heat, to finish off the sauce.

To save on clean up, you could prepare the sauce in the same pot you cook the pasta in, but in an effort to speed things along, I had both pots going at the same time. After stirring in the crisp-tender broccoli and pasta into the sauce, I portioned the mixture out into individual oven-safe baking dishes - if you don't have any, this should fit fine in a smaller casserole dish (a 7 to 8" x 11" would be about the right size). For a bit of crunch, we topped each portion with one of our favorite ways to top pasta - breadcrumbs! Not just any breadcrumbs though, we blitzed a couple slices of whole-wheat to coarse crumbs, then lightly toasted them in the oven. If I were to make this again, I do think a handful of Parmesan, tossed with the cooled, toasted crumbs, would add a bit more oomph to the topping.

Even though everything is completely cooked, a trip in the oven gives the flavors a chance to marry and sets the sauce. Shell pasta was the shape-of-choice for us in this baked dish, but I'm sure others like fusilli, gemelli or even macaroni would work well. Using the heartier mutli-grain pasta brought a nuttiness that we both noticed, yet thought it added a welcomed depth instead of being a distraction to this casserole - if you've never tried it before, this may be a good starting point! The leftovers should reheat well too, though I plan to use the toaster oven to warm them through - if you use a microwave, you'll most likely lose the crunch on top.


  1. You've come a long way!

    I wasn't into pasta dishes much either (other than the basic spaghetti and meat sauce) until more recent years.

    Great combination of ingredients and an excellent recipe.

    (Good photos too!)

  2. I can't believe you didn't eat pasta until you were 23!!!! How did you survive?

    And this dish looks amazing. Thanks for the recipe!

  3. Mags - I know, right? I'd hate to imagine what we'd be eating now if we never did anything.

    Donna - Chicken nuggets, cereal and pizza, of course!