Cooking On A Budget: Italian Vegetable Macaroni and Cheese Casserole

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Italian Vegetable Macaroni and Cheese Casserole


For today I shall play aspiring young chef in my kitchen - amusing my 57 year old self. It will be a delight to know that the warm sunshine and cool breeze coming through my windows shall make for a pleasurable experience and my only companions in the kitchen.
As I view the basket of ripe tomatoes, green and red bell peppers from our garden I know I must, as they say, "use them or loose them".
So I think I will fire roast the peppers and remove the skins from the tomatoes and create a fresh garden vegetable and pasta and cheese type casserole.
Well, this is either going to turn out to be one of the best throw together meals I've made or it will have be labelled as "failure to launch". It turned into a vegetable, Italian sort of macaroni and cheese casserole which actually tasted pretty darn good if I do say so myself!

Here is a photo of the unbaked casserole: 

  • Penne Pasta
  • 3 large fresh tomatoes - peeled and sliced
  • 3 roasted Red Bell peppers - skins removed along with seeds and veins - or use a roasted jar pepper you like.
  • 1 bag shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 bag fresh baby spinach - roughly chopped
  • 8 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 3 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • 2 tsp. milk (for the ricotta cheese mixture) plus approx. 1 cup to pour into the casserole dish
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. I cooked up about 1/2 box or so of the penne pasta to el dente.
  2. On your gas stove top or outside grill, roast the peppers until charred. Place them in a bowl covered with plastic wrap until they have cooled enough to handle and the skins will easily pull off. Remove the seeds and veins and give a rough chop. Or, as I said buy your favorite jar variety.
  3. In a food processor: combine the ricotta cheese, cream cheese and Parmesan cheese with 2 tsp. milk. Pulse until well incorporated.
  4. Transfer the cheese mixture to a mixing bowl and add in salt and pepper to taste and the basil. Mix well.
  5. Layer the casserole dish: sliced tomatoes on the bottom, penne pasta, the ricotta cheese mixture, some of the diced bell peppers and some of the spinach. Sprinkle each layer with some of the shredded mozzarella cheese.
  6. Continue layering until you run out of pasta. Top it off with the remaining mozzarella cheese.
  7. Pour in enough milk until you see the milk around the edge of the casserole dish.
  8. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven covered for 2 hours.
  9. Remove the cover during the last 10-15 minutes to let the top continue to get golden brown and the milk is bubbling.
  10. Let the casserole rest for about 5 minutes when you bring it out of the oven, then ring the dinner bell.
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