Everyone loves a good casserole, right? The key word here is good. We've all had goopy, unappetizing messes inflicted upon us in the name of casseroles, but that really should be the deviation — not the norm. I love casseroles — the good ones. In fact, I just spent a year writing an entire book with 225 recipes for modern, fresh casseroles. This recipe isn't in the book, but it's very much in the spirit of things. Take a pound of pasta, a can of pumpkin, some cheese, some herbs, and there you go — a hot, bubbly, fragrant casserole for your Halloween weekend. All in about 10 minutes of work.
This casserole includes many of my favorite casserole elements. It isn't too full of cheese; there is only part-skim ricotta and a handful of Parmesan here — no heavy cream or gooey cheese. And yet it's rich and creamy, thanks to the pumpkin. It also has a little bit of crunch from the pecans, and protein from the eggs. There is a boatload of flavor from fresh sage and garlic, and a pinch of warm winter spices. Oh, and it's vegetarian too — yet hearty and completely satisfying for any omnivore.
But the real thing I love about casseroles like these is their convenience. I didn't do anything except cook the pasta and mix everything together. A little chopping, a little mincing, and then a quick bake. But this doesn't taste like convenience food — it's delicious, I promise.
If you don't have pumpkin puree in your cupboard, what about a can of sweet potatoes instead? Or a can of black beans, pureed into a creamy sauce for chewy pasta and cheese?
Pumpkin & Ricotta Pasta Casserole
1 pound pasta, such as farfalle, small shells, or elbows
One 15-ounce container ricotta
One 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup yogurt
2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 cup pecans, roughly chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
3/4 cup grated Parmesan, divided
Heat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a 9x13-inch baking dish with olive oil. Set aside. Bring a 4-quart pot of water to boil over high heat, and stir about 1 tablespoon of salt. Add the pasta, and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for a slightly shorter amount of time than specified by the package. (For instance, if the package specifies 10 to 12 minutes, cook for 9 to 10, or until just barely al dente.) Drain the pasta and toss lightly with olive oil.
In a large bowl, whisk together the ricotta, pureed pumpkin, eggs, and yogurt. Whisk in the salt, pepper, nutmeg, and ginger.
Stir in the pasta and coat completely with the pumpkin mixture. Stir in the pecans, chopped pecans, sage, and garlic. Stir in 1/2 cup Parmesan.
Spread the mixture evenly in the prepared baking dish and sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan over top. Bake uncovered for 35 minutes or until golden brown on top. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
And if you'll excuse me a moment of rather blatant self-promotion, my book comes out in January, and there will be 225 more recipes rather like this one in there:
• Not Your Mother's Casseroles at Amazon (January 2011)
Now, your turn. Are there any favorite autumn casseroles or bakes you are enjoying this fall?