From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...If you are looking for a meatless entree to serve tonight, I think you'll enjoy this hearty baked pasta casserole. The shells, which are combined with cauliflower and two types of cheese, take everyday mac n' cheese to a whole nother level. The pasta is rich and delicious but I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you that it is not quick to prepare. There are three steps to the recipe and while none of them is hard, they take some time to complete and you'll have to plan accordingly. I can assure you that your efforts will be rewarded at the table. The dish comes from the Moosewood Restaurant and this recipe can be found in the collective's latest cookbook, New Recipes from from Moosewood Restaurant. While I'm posting the recipe as it was written, I wanted you to know that I cut back on the quantity of onions it called for. My brain refused to let my hands chop 4 cups of onions for a pound of pasta, so I settled for 2 cups and cooked them until they were translucent. That worked well for me. One of these days, I'll get the courage to try the recipe with the full compliment of onions, but I didn't feel like experimenting with aromatics tonight. While I used fresh tomatoes to make the casserole, a good canned variety can be substituted if you are pressed for time or tomatoes are out of season. I hope you'll try this recipe. I know the mix of ingredients sounds a bit strange, but the combination makes for a delicious meatless meal. Here's how the shells are made.
Baked Shells with Cauliflower and Cheese...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite adapted from New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
1 quart warm milk
1-1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
pinch fresh nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 cups chopped onions (I used 2 cups)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets
6 ripe tomatoes, chopped (or 3 cups canned, drained and chopped)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 pound medium pasta shells
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1-1/2 cup shredded mozzarella or mild provolone cheese
seasoned bread crumbs
1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease or oil a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking pan.
2) To prepare Bechamel sauce: Melt butter in heavy sauce pan. Whisk in flour until a smooth paste is formed. Add warm milk slowly, whisking until sauce begins to thicken. Add mustard, nutmeg, salt, and pepper and let sauce thicken further on low heat. Remove from heat and cover.
3) Saute onions, garlic, and basil in oil. When onions are translucent, add cauliflower and saute for 5 minutes more. Add tomatoes and simmer until the cauliflower is tender.
4) Cook pasta per package instructions until al dente. Drain.
5) Combine pasta, vegetable mixture, Bechamel sauce and lemon juice in a large bowl. Put half of pasta mixture in prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with half of each cheese. Add remaining pasta mixture and top with remainder of the cheeses. Top with bread crumbs. Cover pan and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until top is golden and casserole is bubbling, about 15 minutes longer. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.
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