Monday, September 13, 2010

Comfort Food for a Sunday Evening

Sunday evenings to me spell something comforting in the kitchen. Often this means a casserole in the slow cooker, or an Italian dish. Last night I made a pasta bake which I am in the process of perfecting. Of course the fact that I like to use up what I have in the pantry means it will not taste identical every time, but perfecting the base recipe.

I can also make it less carb- and sauce-heavy than a traditional pasta bake. I don't use that much pasta in it, add lots of vegetables and use cottage cheese instead of bechamel or ricotta. Cottage cheese still tastes delicious but is low in fat and high in protein. This probably makes up for the amount of mozzarella I use.

It is comfort food, but it also means I can compile everything in one dish, put it in the oven for an hour or two and sit down with the Sunday papers. The aroma as it cooks is lovely too.

Here is my recipe:

In the deep lasagne or casserole dish add the following in layers (you don't need to worry about greasing or oiling the dish, just pile everything in).

Mix together in a big bowl the bottom layer then add to dish:

Diced pumpkin (about 1 inch cubes)
Silverbeet (chard), washed and chopped
One onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
500g (about 1 lb) light cottage cheese
Seasoning - plenty of salt and pepper, this time I used sweet smoked paprika, chicken stock powder, dried chilli flakes and rubbed sage

With the first layer you can use any vegetables you want to use up, I always include pumpkin as it imparts a rich sweetness and thickens the pasta bake. You can use a small container of cottage cheese if it's a smaller dish you have. I ended up with servings enough for six, not two.

Second layer, sprinkle mozzarella cheese and then add dried, uncooked pasta. I see no point in having to cook pasta first. I am essentially a lazy (sorry, efficient) cook. You can use lasagne sheets, but all I had was macaroni elbows and they worked just fine. Use enough to cover the cheese in a single layer.

Third layer, pour a can or two of diced tomatoes over, spreading out the tomato pieces. Rinse out the can(s) with the tiniest amount of water and pour this in too. This time I added a splash of red wine (just into the middle of the mix, and let it soak in) as I thought there might have not been quite enough liquid in the mix. You don't want too much liquid though, just enough to absorb into the pasta.

Fourth and final layer, add another generous sprinkle of mozzarella cheese. Parmesan would be good too, if you have any (we didn't). Then breadcrumbs. You can use store-bought breadcrumbs or homemade. Since my sister gave us as a gift the wonderful Cuisinart mini food processor I haven't bought breadcrumbs. I save the crusts from bread in the freezer and thaw a few whenever I want crumbs. Place them (torn up) into the food processor, add a clove or two of garlic and any seasoning you might like and blitz. The garlic tastes amazing in them.

Sprinkle breadcrumbs on the top (hopefully you haven't reached the rim of the dish) and place in a moderate 180 (350) oven for at least 1 1/2 hours. I didn't cover mine at all last night, but next time perhaps I would for the first half of the cooking time. The crumbs weren't burnt, but they were quite crispy after the full cooking time.

When you want to check that it is ready, stick a fork in and check that the pumpkin is soft, and try a piece of the pasta to check it is cooked.

Bon appetit.


  1. Fiona, your comfort dish sounds like it would be great on a rainy weekend. My husband has planted chard (didn't know it was called silverbeet) in his garden, plus he's already grown some pumpkins, so I'll have two of the ingredients on hand. And it's a plus that uncooked pasta can be used. I'm always on the lookout for new vegetarian dishs. Yum!

  2. hi fiona,

    i adore comfort food. as fall approaches southern california i dream of turning on my oven and making casseroles and baking.

    even as a vegan, food = comfort.


  3. This is great! I had not thought of using pumpkin. This sounds amazing and I will try the cottage cheese, but I, being of Italian decent, have a hankering for the bechamel. Also, love that you tossed in uncooked pasta. So much easier and of course the vegetables will also add moisture. Yummy!

  4. Gorgeous recipe which I have printed. For some reason I can't buy cottage cheese in Spain. So will go for the "real deal", and worry about the calories after.

  5. Cherie, silverbeet grows like a weed here (almost). I just pop down the driveway to pick some from my neighbour (who doesn't mind as she is my Great-Aunt).

    Janet, I would love to hear about a vegan version. What would you use to 'stick' everything together? I thought of adding beans to this for extra protein.

    Debra, I love bechamel with a passion but have never made the actual proper stuff. It seems very difficult. I can't use the jar stuff though, just too foul. I have a cheat's recipe which is OK.

    Vanessa, how odd. I wonder if it is called something different? Anything creamy is perfect. And really, if you're making something smothered in mozzerella cheese, why worry about the bechamel calories!

  6. I'm on the hunt for more vegetarian dishes and this sounds delicious. I never would have thought of using pumpkin. I will have to keep this in mind when pumpkins become available this fall.

  7. Deanna, I actually forgot this dish is vegetarian! Meat would just ruin it I think . Pumpkin is the key, delicious.

  8. I have a very easy recipe from a Savour cookbook I have. I will feature it in my blog tomorrow. Perhaps I will make some kind of comfort food...hmmm

  9. Debra, I look forward to your recipe post.


Merci for your comment. Wishing you a chic day!

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