I was gone from here for almost a year and I have nothing for my defence. It seems only fair to come back with a really, really good recipe. And by a good recipe, I mean something easy, customisable to every taste and (relatively) healthy. I thought it would be fun to give you something that is more just one thing, but more of a blueprint you can use to build your own versions of a meal.
So what are we making today? Casserole. I don’t want to sound too much like 50’s housewife – but I make it so often because it’s one of my husband’s favourite meals. We already had it countless times since the coronavirus restrictions were introduced (and countless times before). I’d guess that 15% of our corona-dinners were versions of this meal. Yes, there is a lot of repetition right now in my kitchen. Familiar foods bring much-needed comfort and resorting to well-tested recipes prevents food waste.
Anyway, this doesn’t mean that this is a boring recipe. Far from it – it provides a good, reliable base for experimenting with new flavours in a safe way (read: you will still have edible food on your table and won’t need to frantically look for a place that will deliver food to your starving household within 15 minutes). Every one of the options I came up with was different and utilised what was left in the fridge (bonus zero waste points!).
The non-negotiable parts of this casserole are:
- small pasta (I like macaroni, but feel free to use something else)
- plant-based cream (oat, almond, soy – makes no difference)
- binding agent (eggs or starch – tapioca, potato, corn etc)
- protein (fake chicken, tofu, beans etc.)
To this, you add spices and flavourings, and vegetables of your choice, and in about an hour you get a casserole. I found out that a proportion of 250g pasta (dry, before cooking), 400ml liquid (cream plus eggs or starch slurry), 300g of protein source and 500g of vegetables work best and fills nicely a standard large casserole dish. The spices and condiments you want to add should be mixed with the wet ingredients, and this mixture will flavour the whole dish. If it doesn’t come up to 400ml, add some water or more cream.
I really wanted to come up with a recipe that doesn’t need cheese to bind and to taste good, but if you are eating dairy there is nothing that can stop you from topping the dish with some low moisture mozzarella or parmesan. A fun, crunchy, dairy-free alternative can also be some panko mixed with a little bit of oil and herbs, put on top for the last 5 minutes of baking – keep an eye on it, it burns easily!
Here are some ideas, but feel free to come up with your own combination:
White beans (canned or soaked and cooked), Italian seasoning, garlic, onions, zucchini and sundried tomatoes
Smoked tofu, salt, pepper, sweet and smoked paprika, green beans (precooked), and cherry tomatoes
Tofu, bell pepper, broccoli, onion, garlic, sriracha
Asparagus, leek, peas, pesto, and fake chicken (if frozen, the peas can be cooked in the same pot together with pasta)
Basic vegetarian/vegan casserole250g small pasta
200-250ml plant based cream
2 eggs or 2 tbsp starch mixed with 4 tbsp water
300g protein source
spices and flavouring
Water to top up the wet mix to 500ml
Cook the pasta for half of the time indicated on the packaging. Cut the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Put pasta, protein, vegetables in the casserole dish and mix. Mix cream, eggs/starch mixture for vegan version and spices and flavourings, pour over the ingredients in the casserole dish. Bake for 30 min in 175 degrees, covering the top with parchment paper after 15 minutes. Check with a knife or fork if the casserole had set in the middle, if needed, bake for additional 5-10 minutes.
For this version, I used mock “grilled chicken pieces” cut into smaller bits, 1 large leek (the white part), a cup of frozen green beans, and 200g of green asparagus. To flavour the wet mixture I used 100g pesto (leftovers from dinner earlier this week), some salt and pepper.