Almost Cheeseless Pasta Casserole Recipe

Trying to keep this pasta casserole recipe on the lighter side, I tossed a rustic farro pasta in yogurt that had been beaten with a bit of egg along with garlic, toasted almonds, chard, butternut squash, and olives. Baked until golden.

Almost Cheeseless Pasta Casserole

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.

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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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Sounds great, Heidi. If I drain regular yogurt through cheese cloth, will I have the equivalent of Greek Yogurt? I made the adzuki squash soup with some cannelini beans in my kitchen. I used the acorn squash, but I am too lazy to peel it, so I halved it and baked it in the oven. The peel came right off. First time I ever made acorn squash. My husband and I ate the squash just plain the day I baked it. Is it ever good!! The next day I made the soup. It was also a big hit. We had some left over soup so we added it to the fabulous lentil soup we brought home from A Taste of Lebanon, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the Andersonville section of Chicago. That was also good. Keep up the great blog. I love your ideas. And congratulations on being named one of the top 50 cooks in the UK. Did I read that right? And you're not evenin the UK!


This looks delicious and i am definitely with you on not wanting heavy, cheesy, fattening pasta dishes (ok, they are awesome in small amounts) ... I love your use of yogurt as a subsitute for many things as well, it's a brilliant idea!


Will this work with homemade skim milk yogurt? Should I drain some of the liquid out to make it more creamy? The recipe is perfect for me and my husband -- thanks.


oooh, the texture looks divine. I can't wait to try this!


Looks delicious! I''m italian and I love pasta! I'm going to try it, be sure!!


I will be making this very soon. The combination of ingredients sounds just perfect.


This sound so good with the youghurt. I am going to try this dish this wekeend! :) Thankyou for a very nice blog!


You are my hero! Trish


Great recipe and a pretty picture. All too often, "really good" vegetarian dishes are just overladen with cheese. My husband and I went to this famous vegetarian restaurant in Nice, France, and I swear they fed us small portions of veggies and carbs drowning in ungodly amounts of cheese. While I love cheese, I would much prefer this!

nithya at hungrydesi

This looks fantastic! I like the thought of less cheese -- I mean, I LOVE cheese but eat probably too much of it! And incidentally, thank you so much for pointing out Nopa's white bean bake awhile back ... that's my favorite of theirs, and though I've tried to recreate it myself it never even comes close. I'm planning to try it out toute de suite.


i love that it has so many pretty colors, too!


What an interesting twist - Greek yogurt beat with egg. I am excited to try this recipe. I also really like adding slivered almonds to pasta dishes, it gives a nice crunch. Thanks for another great recipe, Heidi. Sheila

Sheila | Live Well 360°

Wow! How unique! I can't wait to try it.

Treehouse Chef

Wow! Can't wait to try this. I too love those cheesy pasta dishes. Seem to please the crowds as well. But too much can't be too good for anybody. Awesome combination. May be dinner tonight. Thanks very much Heidi!

Doug at Words Into Money

Interesting crunch with the almonds. This is the first time we've seen a nut, other than pine nuts, on a hot pasta dish.

The Duo Dishes

It's fun to see the farro pizzichi! How unusual. What a great dish, just beautiful.

The Italian Dish

I think lemon makes EVERYthing taste better - what a lovely way to lighten up a casserole. And the mint, too - ooh lal la! I'm using sweet potato inseate dof the s2quash, as that is what I have on hand. Tegan - I think Heidi means zest the lemon and sprinkle it on the bottom of dish as noted in recipe.


If one is completely off dairy, what would you suggest as a replacement for cheese and yogurt?


Funny about trying to make things less cheesy and heavy, in my world feeding a nearly 2-year old who seems to live too fast to really eat, pasta-bakes are becoming very popular, and they are a place where we can add fat that seems to otherwise go missing from his diet My question is about the squash... this 'feeding kids' world I live in is always looking for convenience, so I'm wondering if one of those bags of frozen diced squash would work here? I love reading your recipes and have tried a few, but they are a little on the sophisticated side for 2-year olds... sigh. the things I miss nowadays...


Heidi - congratulations for being listed in the London Times' list - 50 of the world's best food blogs! Unrelated, ages ago you were asking for a recipe for Patatas Bravas. Penelope Casas has a great recipe in Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain. The potatoes are baked (with a tiny bit of oil so they're still crispy), and her tomato sauce has enough kick to play off the garlic aioli. mmm... We always make extra sauce and aioli - great on a tortilla (similar to the fritatas you posted about in the past).


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