And just like that, summer feels like it is almost over. Beach vacations are winding down, kids are heading back to school. (Watch for a bunch of back-to-school content, coming up next week!) Getting dinner on the table becomes a less of a leisurely affair and more dependent on thinking ahead.
My own fallback in such times is the pasta casserole. Yes, I wrote an entire book about casseroles, but that hasn't stopped me from making them again and again, pulling in any fresh ingredients at hand, and baking up something bubbly-delicious.
This vegetarian casserole comes from my garden — I had just a few ripe tomatoes, and lots of basil — and from my pantry. There's broccoli (from the freezer, or fresh, if you've got it) and a can of chickpeas for texture and protein. Mix it all up, throw in some dollops of fresh mozzarella and handfuls of Parmesan cheese, and you have yourself an easy dinner that everyone will love. Even better: You can make it ahead and reheat it in big slices for lunch.
Like most pasta casseroles, this one is very flexible. If you don't have basil, use sage. Don't have chickpeas? Just leave them out. Want to add a little sausage? No problem. Also, like most of the casseroles I like to make, this isn't a terribly gooey, cheesy, indulgent affair. It's pasta and legumes packed together with lots of vegetables, a little cheese, and hopefully lots of flavor too, from the onions, garlic, and herbs. Just don't expect a gooey holiday-style casserole.
Speaking of the onions and garlic, they aren't cooked before assembling the casserole. One less step of standing over the stove, cooking in the heat. There's hardly any pre-cooking involved here — just boiling the pasta, and steaming the broccoli (which can be done in the microwave).
Tomato, Broccoli & Mozzarella Pasta Casserole
12 ounces farfalle pasta (also known as bowtie) 1 pound broccoli florets, frozen or fresh 3 large ripe tomatoes, divided 3/4 pound onion, diced 4 garlic cloves, very finely minced One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained 3/4 cup chopped basil leaves, divided 1/2 pound fresh full-fat mozzarella, divided 3 large eggs 1 cup cottage cheese (4% milkfat or greater) 1 lemon, juiced 3/4 cup grated Parmesan, divided 2 teaspoons salt 1 teaspoon black pepper
Heat the oven to 375°F and lightly grease a 9x13-inch casserole dish with olive oil. Heat a large pot of water to boiling and salt generously. Add the farfalle and cook for 11 minutes or until barely al dente. Drain and return to the pot.
Steam the broccoli in the microwave or in a steamer basket on the stovetop, just until tender. Drain thoroughly and chop roughly into bite-sized florets. Toss with the cooked pasta. Chop two of the tomatoes into rough pieces, and add them to the pasta. Stir in the chopped onion and minced garlic, along with the drained chickpeas, and 1/2 cup of the chopped basil. Tear about 2/3 of the fresh mozzarella into thumbnail-sized chunks and fold this into the pasta mixture.
Whisk the eggs with the cottage cheese and lemon juice. Stir in 1/2 cup of Parmesan. Stir this liquid into the pasta mixture until well combined. Stir in the salt and pepper.
Spread the pasta in the prepared baking dish. Slice the remaining tomato into half-moons and arrange on top of the pasta. Tear the rest of the mozarella into bits and scatter between the rows of tomato slices. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese on top, and drizzle with olive oil.
Bake for 35 minutes or until the cheese on top has melted and the casserole is bubbling. Remove from the oven and immediately sprinkle the remaining chopped basil over top. Let stand for a few more minutes before serving.