Cheesy & Crunchy Baked Pasta with Cauliflower

I loved that this cheesy comfort food baked pasta dish incorporated an entire head of cauliflower. The lemon zest and capers also added brightness which had a nice balance with the cheese.

The recipe was adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Ina Garten. Great comfort food.

Yield: Serves 8

  • Kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound dried pasta, such as medium shells (I used Cascatelli)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 1/2 pounds cauliflower (1 large head cut into small florets) 
  • 3 tablespoons sage leaves, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 15 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups Fontina cheese, lightly packed (10 oz with rind)
  • 1 cup (8 oz) whole milk ricotta
  • 1/2 cup panko
  • 6 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
  • 2 tablespoons parsley leaves, minced fresh
  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. (I set my oven to convection.)
  2. Fill a large pot with water, add 2 tablespoons of salt and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until 2 minutes less than al dente, according to the instructions on the package. (Since it will be baked later, don’t overcook it! Drain and pour into a very large bowl.)
  3. Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12 to 14-inch) skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat, add half of the cauliflower in one layer and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the florets are lightly browned and tender. Season with salt.
  4. Pour the cauliflower, including the small bits, into the bowl with the pasta.
  5. Add 3 more tablespoons of olive oil to the sauté pan, add the remaining cauliflower, cook until browned and tender and add to the bowl.
  6. Add the sage, capers, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper to the bowl and stir carefully.
  7. Stir in the Fontina.
  8. Transfer half of the mixture to a 10 x 13 x 2–inch rectangular baking dish.
  9. Spoon 12 rounded tablespoons of ricotta on the pasta and spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top. (I used a cookie scoop.)
  10. Combine the panko, grated Pecorino, minced parsley and 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small bowl and sprinkle it evenly on top.
  11. Bake for 22 minutes on convection, or 25 to 30 minutes in a standard oven, until browned and crusty on top. Serve hot.

Note: The dish can be assembled ahead of time. Assemble the dish, cover and refrigerate overnight. Bake before serving.

Cheesy Baked Pasta with Butternut Squash & Greens

My kids love the Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese from Trader Joe’s. (It sells out daily- so they are clearly not alone!) This vegetarian comfort food dish seemed reminiscent enough to be a crowd-pleaser. 😉 I liked that it incorporated leafy greens too.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Yasmin Fahr. I modified the method and proportions. I also added a poblano chile, red onion, garlic, and cilantro. Nice.

Yield: Serves 6

  • Kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium or 1/2 large red onion, diced
  • 1 poblano chile, seeded, ribbed, and diced, divided (or 1 jalapeño, sliced into rounds)
  • 6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeds removed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more to taste
  • 1 pound rigatoni, penne, or other tubular pasta
  • 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano), divided
  • 4 packed cups greens (I used 2 cups turnip greens (sliced into 1-inch ribbons) and 2 cups baby spinach)
  • 8 oz (1/2 pound) fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size chunks
  • 1/3 cup cilantro or flat-leaf parsley and tender stems, roughly chopped, for garnish
  1. Bring a large covered pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until not quite al dente, 3 to 4 minutes less than the package instructions. (It should be a little too firm to the bite.) Reserve 2 cups of the pasta water and drain. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet with high sides and a tight-fitting lid (or a Dutch oven), heat the oil over medium-high until shimmering. (I used a large and wide enameled cast iron pan.)
  3. Add the diced onion and half of the diced poblano chile, season with salt, and cook until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes.
  4. Add the sliced garlic and continue to cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  5. Add the cubed squash and season with salt, cumin, and red-pepper flakes. Cook, stirring every minute, until squash becomes browned in spots and feels just tender, 6 to 8 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400 degrees. (I set my oven to convection.)
  7. When the squash is just tender, add 1 cup of the reserved pasta water. Bring to an active simmer, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is soft and easily mashable, 10 to 12 minutes.
  8. Turn off the heat, then use the back of a wooden spoon to crush about half of the butternut squash and leave the rest chunky. Season the squash to taste, keeping in mind that salty Parmesan will be added soon.
  9. Add the cooked pasta to the skillet along with the remaining 1 cup of reserved pasta water and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan. Stir vigorously to combine.
  10. Stir in the greens one handful at a time until each addition wilts slightly.
  11. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan, the mozzarella, and the remaining diced poblano chile. Place in the oven and cook until the top is melted and browned in spots, 12 to 15 minutes.
  12. Top with minced cilantro and serve.

Spinach Manicotti

I have shared my love for manicotti in the past– stemming from wonderful memories of enjoying it with my college roommate’s large Italian family on Easter Sunday.

I have made many versions of spinach manicotti, usually filling store-bought manicotti noodles. Using no-boil lasagna noodles instead was a great “less-hassle” shortcut. They were also chosen to mimic the texture of fresh pasta. It was absolutely true! I will never buy manicotti noodles again. 😉

This recipe was adapted from America’s Test Kitchen. I replaced one cup of ricotta cheese with an equivalent amount of chopped, steamed spinach seasoned with freshly grated nutmeg. I also used whole milk ricotta instead of part-skim, part-skim mozzarella instead of whole milk mozzarella, coarse salt instead of table salt, and modified the method. Fabulous.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8

For the Tomato Sauce:

  • 28-ounce cans diced tomatoes with juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 to 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, optional
  • coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

For the Filling & Pasta:

  • 6 oz baby spinach
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or to taste
  • 2 cups whole milk ricotta cheese (can substitute part-skim ricotta)
  • 4 ounces (about 2 cups) grated Parmesan cheese, divided (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
  • 8 ounces (about 2 cups) shredded mozzarella cheese (I used part-skim mozzarella)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 16 no-boil lasagna noodles (I used Trader Joe’s)
  1. Steam the baby spinach until wilted. (I did this on the stove top.)
  2. Let the spinach cool slightly, then use a potato ricer to remove excess liquid. Coarsely chop. (You should have about 1 cup.) Season with salt and freshly ground nutmeg. Set aside.
  3. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees, preferably on convection.
  4. Make the Sauce: Pulse 1 can tomatoes with their juice in food processor until coarsely chopped, 3 or 4 pulses. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with remaining can tomatoes.
  5. Heat oil, garlic, and pepper flakes (if using) in large saucepan over medium heat until fragrant but not brown, 1 to 2 minutes.
  6. Stir in tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt and simmer until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes.
  7. Stir in basil; adjust seasoning with salt. Set aside.
  8. Make the Filling: Combine the chopped spinach, ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan, mozzarella, eggs, salt, pepper, and herbs in medium bowl; set aside.
  9. To Assemble: Pour 1 inch boiling water into 13 by 9-inch broiler-safe baking dish, then add noodles one at a time. (I used a pyrex dish.) Let noodles soak until pliable, about 5 to 6 minutes, separating noodles with tip of sharp knife to prevent sticking.
  10. Remove noodles from water and place in single layer on clean kitchen towels. Do not use paper towels because the noodles may stick. (I used flour sack towels.)
  11. If using the same dish to bake the manicotti, drain the water and dry the dish. (I used a ceramic baking dish to bake the manicotti instead of using the pyrex dish.)
  12. Place the preferred baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet. Spread bottom of baking dish evenly with 1 1/2 cups sauce.
  13. Using a large cookie scoop or a soup spoon, spread 3 to 4 tablespoons of the spinach-cheese filling mixture evenly onto bottom three-quarters of each noodle (with short side facing you), leaving top quarter of noodle exposed.
  14. Roll into tube shape and arrange in baking dish seam side down.
  15. Top evenly with remaining sauce, making certain that pasta is completely covered. (It seems like a lot of liquid but it’s necessary for the no-boil noodles to cook properly.)
  16. To Bake: Cover manicotti with aluminum foil. Bake until bubbling, about 40 minutes, then remove foil.
  17. Remove baking dish, adjust oven rack to uppermost position (about 6 inches from heating element).
  18. Sprinkle manicotti evenly with remaining 1 cup Parmesan. Return to the oven on the adjusted oven rack; bake for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.
  19. Set the oven to broil.
  20. Broil until cheese is lightly brown or spotty brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Cool 15 minutes, then serve.

Note: The manicotti can be prepared through step 15, covered with a sheet of parchment paper, wrapped in aluminum foil, and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month. (If frozen, thaw the manicotti in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days.) To bake, remove the parchment, replace the aluminum foil, and increase baking time to 1 to 1 1/4 hours.

Stovetop Mushroom Lasagna

This easy and creamy vegetarian stovetop lasagna was very well received by my family. 😉 The original recipe said that it wasn’t as pretty as a typical baked and layered lasagna, but I thought that it looked pretty appealing.

The recipe was adapted from Bon Appétit, contributed by Sarah Jampel. I increased the amount of mushrooms and garlic. I also used no-boil lasagna noodles. It is a perfect weeknight dish.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 5 T extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 12 to 16 oz mixed mushrooms (such as maitake, oyster, shiitake, and/or crimini), trimmed, cut or torn into 1″ pieces (I used stemmed & quartered cremini mushrooms)
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 2 T thyme leaves
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 3 to 6 garlic cloves, finely grated or chopped
  • 2 T all-purpose flour
  • 2 3/4 cups whole milk
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • lemon zest, plus wedges for serving, optional
  • 1/3 cup crème fraîche or thinned sour cream
  • 8 to 9 oz regular lasagna noodles, broken in half (no-boil okay)
  • 4 to 5 oz mozzarella, thinly sliced
  • finely grated Parmesan, for serving
  1. Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large high-sided ovenproof skillet (preferably with a lid) or small Dutch oven over medium-high. (I used a large, wide enameled cast iron pot.)
  2. Add mushrooms and cook, undisturbed, until starting to brown, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and cook, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 5–7 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; mix in thyme.
  3. Meanwhile, finely chop the shallot and garlic cloves in the bowl of a mini food processor.
  4. Reduce heat to medium-low. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the pan. Add shallot and garlic and cook, stirring, until starting to soften, about 1 minute.
  5. Sprinkle flour over and cook, stirring, until golden, about 1 minute.
  6. Add milk, pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 3/4 cups water, then finely grate zest of 1/4 lemon into pan. Stir to dissolve flour, increase heat to medium, and cook until gently bubbling.
  7. Reduce heat to low, whisk in crème fraîche (or sour cream), and stir to combine.
  8. Add about one third of noodles, pushing down into sauce to submerge, followed by a third of the mushrooms.
  9. Repeat with half of remaining noodles and mushrooms.
  10. Top with another layer of noodles. **Set remaining mushrooms aside.**
  11. Cover with a lid or foil and cook 15 minutes. (If lasagna threatens to boil over, use very lowest heat and/or prop open the cover.)
  12. Uncover; cook, gently lifting and separating noodles occasionally with tongs or a spatula to let sauce flow around, until sauce is thickened and noodles are cooked through, 6–10 minutes. Mixture should be bubbling gently; adjust heat as necessary. Remove from heat.
  13. Heat broiler. Top lasagna with mozzarella and reserved mushrooms.
  14. Broil until cheese is bubbling and browned in spots, about 2 minutes.
  15. Finely grate more lemon zest over. Sprinkle with Parmesan; season with pepper.
  16. Let sit 5–10 minutes. Cut lemon into wedges, if desired, and serve with lasagna.

Spinach Lasagna

  • 16 dried (no-boil) or fresh lasagna noodles
  • 3 to 4 cups good tomato sauce (I used 28 oz jar Rao’s marinara)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds spinach, steamed, squeezed dry and chopped (about 3 cups cooked)
  • 12 oz (1 1/2 cups) whole-milk ricotta
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3 large garlic cloves, pushed through a garlic press
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely grated mozzarella
  • 2 cups finely grated Parmesan (I used 1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano and 1 cup Pecorino-Romano)
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. If you’re using fresh pasta sheets, cut them into long wide noodles approximately 3 inches by 13 inches, or a size that will fit into your lasagna dish. (I used 16 dried no-boil lasagna noodles from Trader Joe’s)
  2. Steam the spinach until wilted, and drain. (I steamed it in a large pasta pot for 3-4 minutes.) In batches, use a potato ricer to remove excess liquid. Coarsely chop.
  3. Combine the ricotta, egg, nutmeg, and garlic in a bowl.
  4. Heat the oven to 400 degrees, preferably on convection.
  5. Grease a rectangular baking dish with the olive oil, add a large dollop of tomato sauce and spread it around.
  6. Put a layer of noodles (use four per layer) in the dish; top with a layer of tomato sauce, one-third of the spinach, and one-fourth of the ricotta mixture (in dollops), the mozzarella, and the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper, if desired.
  7. Repeat the layers twice.
  8. Top with the remaining noodles, tomato sauce, ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan; the top should be covered with cheese; add more ricotta and Parmesan as needed. (The lasagna may be made ahead to this point, wrapped tightly and refrigerated for up to a day or frozen. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.)
  9. Cover with parchment paper topped with aluminum foil. Bake for 25 minutes.
  10. Uncover, and continue to bake until the lasagna is bubbling and the cheese is melted and lightly browned on top, about 15 minutes more.
  11. Remove from the oven and let rest a few minutes before serving.

Update: This lasagna was also successful made with 1 1/2 pounds of mixed greens. I used beet greens, turnip greens, red kale, spinach, and chicory. Great.

Butternut Squash, Sage, & Ricotta Manicotti

I made this baked pasta dish to serve on Thanksgiving Eve. My Mother-in-Law asked that I post the recipe so that she could make it to serve to vegetarian guests. It was such a compliment! This post is quite belated- oops. :/

This recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart Living’s Everyday Food. I used manicotti noodles instead of lasagna and modified the proportions. I boiled the squash in the salted pasta water but may roast it instead next time to enhance its flavor. It was cheesy, creamy, and rich comfort food.

Yield: Serves 8 to 10

  • 6 T olive oil, plus more for baking dish
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 (8 oz each) packages manicotti (there will be leftover noodles)
  • 1 butternut squash (about 2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 4 large shallots, chopped
  • 3/4 cup milk (I used whole milk)
  • 2 tsp finely chopped fresh sage leaves, plus 16 to 20 whole leaves
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 (15 oz each) containers of whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. Lightly oil a 9×13-inch baking dish. (I used cooking oil spray.)
  3. In a large pot of boiling, generously salted water, cook pasta until al dente. Using tongs, transfer pasta to a rimmed baking sheet.
  4. Add squash to boiling water and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain squash and transfer to a bowl. (Alternatively, the squash can be roasted at 425 degrees, preferably on convection roast, until lightly browned and tender, about 25 to 35 minutes.)
  5. In a small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium. Add shallots, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
  6. Transfer sautéed shallots to the bowl with the squash and add 4 tablespoons milk, chopped sage, and nutmeg; season with salt and pepper. Mash with a fork until a rough puree forms.
  7. Fill a gallon ziplock bag with the squash mixture. Cut an opening in one bottom corner of the bag, large enough to fit the opening of the manicotti noodles.
  8. Pipe the squash mixture into the manicotti noodles, about 1/4 cup each. Place each filled noodle into the prepared baking dish. (I had 8 cooked noodles leftover.)
  9. In a bowl, combine ricotta, 1 cup Parmesan, and 1/2 cup milk and season with salt and pepper.
  10. Spread ricotta mixture over cannelloni and top with remaining 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan.
  11. Bake until warmed through, about 25 minutes.
  12. Broil until top is browned, 2 to 3 minutes.
  13. Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium to medium-high. Fry whole sage leaves until crispy, 15 to 20 seconds. Drain on paper towels.
  14. Serve the casserole topped with fried sage.

Ina Garten’s Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Ina Garten uses the genius idea of roasting all of the vegetables in this lasagna filling, as well as using no-boil lasagna noodles, to remove the excess liquid that often makes a vegetable lasagna too watery. Perfect comfort food.

This recipe was adapted from Make It Ahead: a Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten, via The Kitchn, contributed by Emma Christensen. I used a mandoline to slice the eggplant and zucchini. I also increased the garlic and goat cheese, modified the technique, and used the noodles without pre-soaking them.

It was very cheesy and indulgent so we gobbled it up with a giant green salad. 😉

Yield: Serves 10

  • 1 1/2 pounds eggplant (1 medium/large), unpeeled, sliced lengthwise 1/4-inch thick using a mandoline
  • 3/4 pound zucchini (2 medium/large), unpeeled, sliced lengthwise 1/4-inch thick using a mandoline
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 T dried oregano
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12-14 ounces no-boil lasagna noodles (I used Trader Joe’s)
  • 16 ounces fresh whole-milk ricotta
  • 10 ounces creamy garlic-and-herb goat cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, lightly packed
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 4 1/2 cups, 40 oz, bottled marinara sauce (I used Trader Joe’s Italian Marinara with Barolo Wine)
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, very thinly sliced (I used pre-sliced and cut them in half)
  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F preferably on convection roast.
  2. Arrange the eggplant and zucchini in single layers on 3 sheet pans lined with parchment paper. (I had 1 2/3 trays of eggplant and 1 1/3 trays of zucchini.)
  3. Brush them generously with the olive oil on both sides, using all of the oil.
  4. Sprinkle with the oregano (I crush it in my hands), 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper.
  5. Roast for 25 minutes, rotating after 15 minutes.
  6. Sprinkle the garlic evenly over the vegetables, and roast for another 5 minutes, until the vegetables are cooked through.
  7. Remove all 3 trays from the oven and lower the temperature to 350°F, preferably on convection.
  8. Combine the ricotta, goat cheese, eggs, basil, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed.
  9. Spread 1 cup of the marinara in a 9×13×2-inch baking dish.
  10. Arrange a third of the vegetables on top, then a layer of the noodles (6 noodles per layer), a third of the mozzarella (9 1/2 pieces per layer), and a third of the ricotta mixture in large dollops between the mozzarella.
  11. Repeat twice, starting with the marinara.
  12. Spread the last 1 1/2 cups of marinara on top and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan.
  13. Place the dish on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  14. Remove the foil and bake an additional 30-35 minutes, until the lasagna is browned and bubbly.
  15. Allow to rest for 10 minutes and serve hot.

Make-Ahead: Assemble the lasagna completely and refrigerate for up to 1 day or freeze for up to 3 months. Defrost (if necessary) and bake before dinner.

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