Summer Vegetable Casserole

I have been holding out on you. I’ve been making this side dish for almost a year now and I am just now getting around to posting it. The good news is that this is pretty much the perfect time of year to share/make this recipe.

Back when we lived in Ohio, we would have a nice little vegetable garden every summer. By July I was always trying to come up with new ways to use the vegetables that seemed to be taking over every inch of our kitchen. Luckily, I have learned over the years that vegetables are so, so much more than things you just steam and serve along side dinner. Sometimes, even when they are the side dish, they’re the star of the meal.

That’s pretty much how I feel about this casserole, it’s always the star of our dinner. But don’t get caught up on the title, “casserole” fits because the ingredients are bound together and baked with a little sprinkling of cheese. There are no cans of soup or cups of cream in this casserole. There is however a little bit of a surprise ingredient – cottage cheese. Don’t let that scare you. Mixed in with the rice and vegetables it just acts like a binder. Also feel free to play with the vegetables a little bit. I think the zucchini, corn, and tomatoes are a must, but sometimes (like this time) I throw in bell peppers or eggplant.

Summer Vegetable Casserole

Ingredients
2 eggs
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp fresh black pepper
2 tsp Dijon mustard*
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 cup cooked rice (I used short grain brown rice)
1/2 medium red onion, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced
1 cup zucchini (1 small zucchini), roughly cut into matchsticks or diced
1 ear of corn, cut from the cob or 1/2 cup frozen corn
1/2 medium bell pepper, diced
4 large leaves of fresh basil, chiffonaded

*Sometimes, for an extra kick,  I use 1 tsp Dijon mustard and 1 tsp whole grain mustard. Just depends on my mood!

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a casserole dish or pie pan with nonstick spray. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, salt, pepper, mustard, garlic, cottage cheese, and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Add the rice, onion, tomatoes, zucchini, corn, and bell pepper, stir to coat evenly.

Pour the mixture into the prepared casserole dish or pie pan, use a spatula to evenly distribute in dish. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 30-40 minutes, or until the cheese starts to turn golden brown.

Allow to coil for 15 minutes. Garnish with fresh cut basil and serve.

Very slightly adapted from eat love drink

Penne with Chicken and Vegetables in Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce

Wow, that’s a really long name! Probably too long, but when thinking about this recipe it just didn’t feel right to leave any part out of the name. The chicken, vegetables, and roasted garlic sauce all work together to form one beautiful, filling, delicious pasta dish.

I knew that I wanted to make pasta for dinner and I knew what ingredients I had on hand, but I didn’t have a specific recipe in mind. So I went searching and what I found was very promising recipe on my friend Krystal’s blog (Krystal just had a baby, by the way!). I worked with what I had and used her recipe as guide, and what I thought was going to be a good dinner turned out to be a GREAT dinner! So much so that I’m putting it back on the menu for this week!

The first change I made was to use zucchini instead of broccoli (side note: why can I never spell either of those words right on the first try? mental spelling block) and penne instead of fettucine.  I also used milk instead of cream, but because I was worried that it wouldn’t thicken up enough, I added a tablespoon of corn starch. It worked perfectly and even held up and remained creamy for my next day lunch leftovers. Finally, I added mushrooms because it just seemed right.

Penne with Chicken and Vegetables in a Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce

Ingredients

1 head of garlic – roasted with salt, pepper, and olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small-medium zucchini, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
4-5 button mushrooms, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 1/2 cups milk
1 Tbsp corn starch
1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more for topping
1-2 chicken breasts (depending on how much chicken per serving you want), roasted and sliced
12 oz. penne pasta
Fresh chopped basil or parsley for garnishing

Directions
Preheat oven to 375. Cut the top off of a head of garlic to expose the tops of cloves. Place on a sheet of aluminum foil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil. Loosely wrap the aluminum foil around the garlic, pinching the seams to seal. Roast for 45 minutes to an hour, or until the cloves are tender and start to turn golden brown. Allow to cool.

While the garlic is roasting, drizzle the chicken breast with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and roast for about 30 minutes, until cooked through. Allow the chicken to rest, covered with aluminum foil, until you’re ready to serve, then cut into slices. (Roasting in the same oven as the garlic slightly infuses some of the garlic flavor into the chicken, mmm!)

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook penne until al dente then drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

While the pasta is cooking, whisk together the milk and corn starch in a glass measuring cup, set aside. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil and butter. Add the onion, zucchini, bell pepper, and mushrooms. Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring often, or until the vegetables soften and the onions are translucent. Season with a little salt and pepper. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of the cloves into the skillet. Use a spatula or wooden spoon to break up the garlic and mix into the vegetables.

Create a well in the skillet by pushing the vegetables to the edges, slowly stream in the milk/cornstarch mixture, whisking constantly. Work the vegetables into the sauce with the whisk then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 3-5 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan, then cook for another 3-5 minutes, or until the sauce begins to thicken and coat the back of the spoon. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if necessary. Add the cooked pasta to the skillet and stir to coat. If the sauce seems too thick, add the reserved cooking liquid a tablespoon at time until you get the desired consistency.

Top each portion with the sliced chicken, extra Parmesan, and fresh chopped basil or parsley. Serve hot and enjoy!

Adapted from Mrs.Regueiro’s Plate

Minestrone Soup

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The holidays are over and with the drop of a ball it’s officially a new year. There’s a good chance that a few of you have decided to start the new year off on a healthier foot. I’m not personally one for making resolutions, for me they rarely stick. Instead, I try to use moderation as a guide and make any changes I want through out the year. I started using the gym on a regular basis in the middle of August and just this past fall I started twice weekly yoga classes.

Still, after a month of heavy holiday foods, my body is just screaming for vegetables and “good for you” meals. What a body wants, a body gets. So I decided my first homemade meal of 2012 was going to be something chock full of vegetables, but still filling and comforting. Just what I needed on the day that I drove Jesse to the airport AGAIN for another trip to China. At least this time I get to meet him out there in February!


Minestrone Soup

Ingredients
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small zucchini, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 small yellow squash, diced (about 1/2 cup)
2 small carrots, diced
1-2 celery stalks, diced
1/3 cup frozen lima beans
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp dried thyme
pinch of red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 (15 oz) can reduced sodium diced tomatoes, with juices
2 (15 oz) cans vegetable broth*
3 cups hot water
1 (15 oz) can Kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15 oz) can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
2 cups kale, finely chopped (tough stems discarded)
1/2 cup small pasta shape
Pinch of kosher salt, if needed

*Make sure to check the labels when you buy your broth. I found that my store brand had almost 200 mg LESS sodium than the national brand. I try to use as much reduced or lower sodium canned goods as possible when making this soup, especially since the cans are being layered together.

Directions
In a large stock pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, zucchini, squash, celery, lima beans, carrots, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until onions turn translucent. Add the dry spices and bay leaves to the vegetables and stir. Make a well in the center of the pot and add the tomato paste. Stir to coat the vegetables. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the diced tomatoes with juices, vegetable broth, and water. Bring soup to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes. Increase the heat the high and bring to a boil. Add the kale and pasta* and cook for 8 minutes.

Remove bay leaves before serving. Serve with fresh grated Parmesan.

*If you plan to make this soup and eat it later, you might find that cooking and storing the pasta separately will prevent “too chewy” or soggy pasta. Personally, in soup, I kind like the next day soggy noodles.

Adapted from Food.com

I Love Lasagna and Happy Mother’s Day!

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This meal is in honor of Mother’s Day! Last summer my mom and I took a vacation to Disneyworld. It was the first time either of us had ever been and it was so much fun! We stayed at the Movie All-Stars resort and we were able to go to Epcot, Magical Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. Truly an amazing trip and it was so great to get to hang out just my mom and I. One night we made dinner reservations for Tony’s Town Square in the Magic Kingdom. We both ordered the vegetable lasagna and it was actually pretty darn good. Of course the portion sizes were huge so we wound up wishing we just would have shared (but then I wouldn’t have been able to eat ALL of the cheesy top so maybe it was better that way). Since that time I have had vegetable lasagna on my to-try list.

Part of the trouble with lasagna is that it makes a ton. It was just me eating the lasagna last night so I didn’t want to make a 9×13 pan. I initially planned on using a small Le Crueset baker that I have but after pulling it out I thought the sides weren’t tall enough. I wanted to have lots of room for cheesy goodness in my lasagna. I looked around the rest of my bakeware and finally I decided that my 9×5 bread pan was best suited for the small lasagna job. It worked out perfectly! I think as is this recipe would serve 3 people perfectly, or in my case dinner and leftovers for 2 lunches.

This lasagna was DELICIOUS! The bechamel sauce added a rich flavor that went so well with the tangy tomatoes. I used zucchini, yellow squash, tomatoes, onion, mushrooms, and spinach, but this recipe is so adaptable you could really use any of your favorite vegetables. Eggplant and bell peppers would make an excellent addition. Play around and see what combination you like best!


Bread Pan Vegetable Lasagna

Vegetable filling –
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 zucchini, sliced
1/2 yellow squash, sliced
1/2 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
4 baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1 (14 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes in juice
1/2 tsp dry basil
1/2 tsp dry oregano
pinch of rosemary
pinch of red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp kosher salt
fresh ground pepper to taste

Ricotta filling-
8 ounces (1 cup) ricotta cheese
1/3 cup frozen spinach, thawed and excess liquid squeezed out
1/3 cup shredded italian cheese blend (or a mix of mozzarella and parmesan)
1 egg, lightly beaten
3-4 large fresh basil leaves (cut in a Chiffonade)
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Bechamel sauce- (adapted from Mario Betali)
2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of nutmeg

1 1/3 cups shredded Italian cheese blend
6 no-boil lasagna noodles

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large skillet, over medium heat, heat the olive oil. Add the zucchini, squash, onion, mushrooms and garlic. Cook for 2 minutes or until the onions start to turn translucent. Add the seasonings and can of whole tomatoes. Use a wooden spoon to break apart the whole tomatoes. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer while you make the bechamel sauce.

In a small saucepan, over medium-low heat, melt the butter. While the butter is melting heat the milk in the microwave for 1 minute and 30 seconds. When the butter is melted, slowly add the flour whisking constantly. After 4 minutes, when the butter is a light golden color, slowly add the hot milk whisking constantly. Increase the heat to medium and bring the mixture to a boil, whisking often. Cook for 10 minutes then remove from the heat and add the salt and nutmeg. (during this time I made the ricotta mixture, remembering to whisk often) Then remove from heat and set aside until ready to assemble the lasagna.

In a small bowl combine the ricotta, Italian cheese, spinach, egg, basil, salt and pepper.

Pour a small amount of bechamel sauce into the bottom of a 9×5 bread pan. Lay one whole lasagna noodle and break a piece off of another to fill the pan (about 1/3 of another noodle). Continue to layer the ingredients in the following order:

1. Noodle
2. 1/3 of the Ricotta cheese mixture
3. 1/3 of the Vegetable mixture
4. 1/3 cup Shredded cheese
5. 1/3 cup Bechamel sauce

After the 3rd group of layers, top off the lasagna with another noodle, the last of the Bechamel sauce and the last 1/3 cup of shredded cheese.

Cover the bread pan with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes. (I also gave mine 2 minutes under the broiler to make the cheese a deeper golden brown)