Where's the Meat?

We’re half way through January of a New Year. For 2018 I really didn’t make any hard and fast resolutions. But I did set a few goals for myself, including following a more semi-vegetarian or flexitarian diet - one that is plant-based where I eat less meat.

With all the snow we’ve had recently it’s time for comfort food. But for an omnivore like me that typically means something with meat and vegetables. So, how do I make a hearty comfort food based mostly on vegetables? Well it’s not as hard as you think.

Meat free does not necessarily mean vegan or vegetarian. I’ve been experimenting with meat free dishes for years. Many of them use either rice or pasta with vegetable and broth that adds texture and flavor. One of my favorites is an Indian dish, vegetarian korma that I’ve shared on iCook (see Cooking for a Cause). This week, I’m going in a bit of a different direction with a Butternut squash baked pasta casserole. 

This casserole has no meat but does use chicken stock and parmesan cheese, so it isn’t vegan or vegetarian. You could however make it so by substituting vegetable stock for the chicken stock and using a dairy- free cheese product - I will leave that up to you.

One reason this dish works for me is that it is hearty and creamy. If I’m going to cut down on meat, there must be a comfort food factor. I like the bit of crunch from the nuts and the flavor of the squash. I hope you like it as well. Live, Laugh, Love and Eat well.

Butternut Squash Baked Pasta

Courtesy of Bon Appetit

Serves 4

  • ½ cup hazelnuts or walnuts
  • 4 TBSP extra virgin olive oil, divided plus some for drizzling
  • 1 large onion finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 small butternut squash, halved, seeded, cut into ½ inch cubes (about 6 cups)
  • 4 cups low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 LB rigatoni or paccheri
  • Kosher salt
  • 2oz Parmesan, finely grated (about 1 ½ cups) divided, plus more for serving
  • 1 cup basil leaves, torn
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 F. Toast the hazelnuts (or walnuts) on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing halfway through, until golden brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Let cool, then finely chop and transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in 2 TBSP oil, set aside.

Heat remaining 2 TBSP oil in a medium pot over medium-high. Cook onion stirring occasionally, until golden brown and softened, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant and garlic is softened, about 1 minute. Add squash and toss to combine. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and gently simmer until squash is tender, about 15 minutes (this will depend on size of your squash cubes). Let cool slightly.

In a large pot of salted water, cook pasta, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, about 3 minutes less than the package directions. Drain, then rinse with cold water.

Transfer squash mixture to a blender (alternately use an immersion mixer). Add 1 cup Parmesan and puree until smooth; season with salt.

Pour ½ cup squash puree into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish and spread to the edges. Scatter pasta over sauce, then pour remaining sauce over it. Top with ½ cup Parmesan cheese. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes at 350 F. Uncover and increase temperature to 425 F and bake until top is darkened in spots and sauce is bubbling 10-15 minutes.

Add basil to bowl with reserved nuts, season with salt and toss to combine. Spoon nut mixture over pasta and top with additional cheese and black pepper.

Click Here to download a printable PDF of the recipe for this week!