Recipe: Goat Cheese and Swiss Chard Pasta Casserole

This past weekend in San Francisco, the weather forecast was a bold one. Each news station insisted snow was on its way. People dug out their winter coats. Kids prepared for snow-man marathons. And I made a very fine casserole&mdash one with healthy whole-wheat pasta, Swiss chard, and goat cheese.

It was definitely a casserole occasion as it hasn't snowed in San Francisco since the 1970's. But alas, when we all awoke Saturday morning, there was bright sunshine gleaming through the blinds and not a flake to be found. Thankfully, this dish is perfect for any evening&mdash snow or no snow.

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I love this recipe because it's the ultimate "kitchen sink" casserole although it pretends to be a bit more refined. At first glance, it's a baked pasta dish brimming with juicy tomatoes and colorful Swiss chard.

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But after a few bites, you'll notice the layers of flavor that the olive tapenade, capers, and dual cheeses lend. Because it's made with whole-wheat pasta and contains leafy greens and beans, I always feel good about it being a complete meal in and of itself. And it freezes well if you'll have leftovers that you won't use right away. You know, in the situation that you made extra in case it snows in San Francisco. Or some such nonsense.

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Goat Cheese and Swiss Chard Casserole While this recipe calls for small shell pasta, feel free to use whatever shaped pasta you have on hand. Serves 4

1 large head Swiss chard
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups chopped well-drained canned plum tomatoes
1/2 pound whole wheat shells
3/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
1/2 cup canned kidney beans, drained and rinsed
3 tablespoons olive tapenade
3 tablespoons capers
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
freshly ground black pepper

Rinse the Swiss chard, drain very well, and chop it into chunky pieces. It's going to get cooked down, so no need to be too precise here.

Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until just slightly tender. Stir in the garlic, add the tomatoes, and then add the Swiss chard. Cook for about 8 minutes or until the chard has just wilted. Be careful not to overcook the Swiss chard; it will have the opportunity to bake in the oven as well.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and set aside.

Remove the chard and tomatoes from the heat and stir in the goat cheese, kidney beans, olive tapenade, capers and half the amount of parmesan. Fold in the pasta and season with salt and pepper.

Pour the pasta mixture into a 1 or 2 quart casserole dish and sprinkle remaining Parmesan on top. Bake until heated all the way through, about 15 to 18 minutes.

Related: Easy, Cheesy: Swiss-Chard Gratin

(Images: Megan Gordon)

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