Almost Cheeseless Pasta Casserole

Almost Cheeseless Pasta Casserole Recipe

More often than not pasta casseroles are deliciously cheesy affairs. The formula goes something like this - pasta, a bit of sauce, a pound of cheese. The cheese is the decadent glue that works to hold the rest of the casserole together. It's what helps to keep things moist. It's what calls me back for that second piece. There are few things I love more than a golden fork-full of oven-browned mozzarella straight off a hot slice of lasagna. But there is only so much I can take, and truth be told, I rarely cook or eat this way any more. It's too heavy, too much. I end up needing a nap...immediately. So, while I still bake the occasional pasta casserole, I'll typically enjoy it as a side dish, and I try to lighten things up as far as the ingredients go. In this case, to keep things moist and creamy I tossed a rustic farro pasta in yogurt that had been beaten with a bit of egg. In went plenty of garlic, toasted almonds, chard, butternut squash, and olives. Then I finished things off with a sprinkling of feta before baking until golden.

Almost Cheese-less Pasta Casserole Recipe

I'm sure you can imagine re-interpreting this recipe based on the seasons. I opted for butternut squash in part because I had some leftover from the Adzuki Butternut Soup the other day. I could imagine zucchini with roasted tomatoes sprinkled on top in late summer, or an asparagus and dill version this spring. I highly recommend the toasted nuts because the add a nice amount of crunch. And whatever the season, zest the bottom of your baking dish. It will transform your casserole.

Almost Cheeseless Pasta Casserole Recipe

I used a 100% farro pizzichi pasta here, but whole wheat penne is much more readily available - shoot for something made from whole grain flour, and roughly that size.

zest of one large lemon
8 ounces dried whole wheat pasta (penne or something comparable in size)
1 1/2 cups butternut squash, peeled and sliced into quarter sized pieces
3 handfuls kale, chard, and/or spinach, loosely chopped
2 cups plain Greek yogurt (I use 2% here)
2 egg yolks
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
2/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
1/4 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and torn into pieces
scant 1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

Preheat oven to 400F degrees, with a rack in the middle. Butter or oil an 8x12-inch baking dish, or two smaller gratin dishes. Sprinkle with lemon zest and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it generously, and cook the pasta until al dente. Just 10 seconds before you are done cooking the pasta, stir in the butternut squash and kale - for the quickest possible swim. Quickly (but carefully) drain. Now run cold water over the pasta, squash, and kale (just enough to stop it from cooking). Shake off any extra water and set aside.

While you are waiting for the pasta water to boil, whisk together the yogurt, eggs, garlic, and salt in a large mixing bowl - set aside until the pasta is boiled. Then. when ready, add the pasta-squash-kale mixture to the yogurt mixture and stir in half of the almonds. Scoop everything into the prepared baking dish(es), sprinkle with olives and feta, and bake for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and serve sprinkled with a bit of the chopped fresh mint and remaining almonds.

Serves 6 -8 as a side.

If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Comments

  • Great idea, Heidi! If only I could get my husband to eat nuts in pasta... =)

    Maggie
  • I have never seen recipe like this in my life. Your creativity is a world beating recipe and should be in the Record Book of Quinness because food is irresistibly mouth watering.

    Million Mabaso
  • I just love feta that saltiness

    THEMBI MBONANI
  • This looks wonderful Heidi! I totally agree -- heavy, overly cheesy casseroles make me sluggish and heavy too -- thanks for sharing this lighter alternative :)

    Nirvana
  • Heidi, I just recently discovered your site and am enamored with your recipes. They are a the perfect intersection of health, flavor, texture, creativity and fresh ingredients and i am excited to explore by cooking more of your ideas! Do you have any thoughts on making this dish vegan? is it possible or you think it would significantly alter the texture/flavor component? soy yogurt has a very unique flavor, even the plain ones so I'm not sure whether substituting would be the right step--what do you think? HS: If you give it a go please report back. I don't particularly like soy yogurt. I might actually do some sort of crushed tomato sauce in place of the dairy? I'd have to play around a bit.

    lactose intolerant veggie
  • Looks fantastic! I find your blog wonderfully inspiring, and I love your creativity.

    Foodess
  • Feta and my taste buds don't get along. What do you think about ricotta? Ricotta is one of my favorite cheeses and one of the few cheeses that actually taste good (in my opinion) in low-fat and non-fat varieties. Greek yogurt though, that's genius. Great idea. HS: Ricotta cold be a nice substitute!

    Nick
  • I love it! I also love that forkful of melty oozey mozzarella but am beginning to cook differently. I am discovering the joys of fat free sour cream! And I will definately try this! Many thanks!

    NWKate
  • What a great idea, love the baked butternut squash, kale and yogurt. I like to use roasted broccoli, pignoli and feta with pasta, and will now try with baking with yogurt. Thanks!

    Catherine Ettlinger
  • This sounds so delicious! Is there any way to make this eggless? Perhaps using silken tofu? HS: I think it would take a bit of experimenting, but it might be fine just using the yogurt. The egg def. acts as a binder.

    Supriya
  • Heidi, I really appreciate your efforts to make casseroles healthier. And you still manage to pack in tons of flavor. :)

    Kalinda
  • Since I don't like cheesy things, I thought pasta bakes were totally off limits to me, forever. This looks so amazing! I am totally giving it a shot...maybe when my boyfriend goes off his low-carb diet. Otherwise, that'd just be mean :-)

    Hallie
  • This looks wonderful as always and I love the ingredients you've used. But, what I really need to know is where you got that lovely looking farro pasta. WW penne is fine ... but the pasta you've used looks far more toothsome and intriguing! HS: I can't remember exactly - I think it might have been Bi-Rite Market here in SF. I typically keep my eyes peeled whenever I'm shopping and then grab whatever pastas look interesting and keep them on hand.

    The Diva on a Diet
  • This sounds like a great alternative to heavy, cheesy casseroles (as much as I love them).

    Sara
  • This looks delicious! Olives and feta make everything better... :)

    The Fat Dietitian
  • Looks wonderful, and I'm so with you on the heavy casserole thing. If you get a chance, check out the mushroom and rice casserole in American Masala. Phenomenal, and also very light, thanks to the buttermilk (rather than butter/cheese).

    Laura
  • This looks fantastic. I love the use of yogurt to create the sauce, and feta seems like the perfect compliment to it.

    ashley (sweet & natural)
  • This looks fantastic. I love the use of yogurt to create the sauce, and feta seems like the perfect compliment to it.

    ashley (sweet & natural)
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