In my continuing aim to teach Ben how to do some simple and healthy cooking (beyond chicken pesto pasta and Mac n Cheese) I decided to show him how to make a super simple pasta bake that is full of veggies and good things (meaning: cheese). Some day I will want Ben to cook and to give myself a break, and this recipe doesn’t require much out of the ordinary. Usually Ben would write this, but he has been very busy and I wanted to get it up, so here it is.
I first made this recipe for my neighbor after she had bunion surgery. She couldn’t get off of the couch, and her son doesn’t know how to cook a thing. So taking pity on her, her son, and he granddaughter, I tossed something together. I didn’t want it to be the typical lasagne, but I know that some people are picky. So it still needed to be something mainstream. In the end I decided on this. Not quite a lasagne, but cheesy and good.
Since I included broccoli in my recipe, today’s educational section is going to be about broccoli. It is a food that is native to Europe, probably in Italy. It was treasured by the Romans around 2000 years ago (around the time of Jesus). The name is the plural of broccolo, which is Italian for “flowering head of cabbage.” As I discovered when I went to plant broccoli, it is actually in the brassicus family along with cabbage. Unlike the cabbage, though, we don’t eat the leaves. Instead, the edible portion is the flower head of the plant. Each of those little round ends is actually an unblossomed flower. We harvest them from the center of the plant. You can make many harvests over the season, new flower heads will come back. The plants actually grow quite large, my gardening book said to give them two square feet to branch out. For such a ubiquitous vegetable, I was very surprised to find that it was not common in the US until the 1920s, when Italian immigrants successfully introduced it to the country.
Broccoli has also been found to have many health benefits, like all vegetables. In particular it provides sulphoraphane, a cancer fighting nutrient. In order to retain this nutrient, though, you should not boil the broccoli. After only five minutes it looses up to 1/3rd of it’s value. Instead you should steam or stir fry, this does not affect the nutritional value. That, and who thinks it’s a good idea to boil broccoli? Those people are the reason children don’t like to eat their veggies. Broccoli also provides a substantial amount of vitamin C (sick and tired of oranges?) as well as dietary fiber. Here is something I didn’t know about broccoli or nutrition: it is an excellent source of indole-3-carbinol which helps DNA and cells repair themselves and helps block the formation of cancer cells.
Easy Pasta Bake
- 1 pound of small pasta. Anything will do as long as it isn’t the long spagetti like kind. I like bow ties or spirals.
- 1 jar of pasta sauce, your choice. I recommend a good spaghetti sauce like Prego or Ragu. Otherwise you’re going to have to add a lot of seasonings that I don’t include here. I like sauce, so sometimes I use 1.5 jars.
- 1 pound hamburger, browned with garlic and onion powder.
- Veggies of your choice. I took a bag of mixed veggies from the freezer and got it mostly done in the microwave. I recommend broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, peas, and/or onions. In every pasta dish I put in spinach. You can’t taste it and it adds so much nutrition and color. Just chop it up and toss it in.
- 1 large container low fat ricotta cheese.
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (or more, to your liking).
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp oregano (fresh is best for all of these, but dried is fine)
- 1 tsp basil
- 1 tsp parsley
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional–these are the things you put on pizza. I think they give the dish a fantastic little kick that isn’t so much that it’s spicy, but it certainly isn’t bland).
- Preheat oven to 375 (350 at lower elevations).
- Cook your pasta in a large pot, and brown your meat in a pan.
- Once the pasta is done drain it. Put it back into the pot and mix in the spaghetti sauce, meat, and veggies.
- In a med bowl mix together the ricotta, 1 cup of the mozzarella, the egg and the seasonings. (The egg helps hold the low fat ricotta together).
- Spray a large casserole dish with cooking spray. Put half of the pasta mix on the bottom. Then put all of the ricotta mixture on top of that. I find that it is very easy and fun to press it in with your hands rather than a spoon. Then put the other half of the pasta mix on top. Top it off with the remaining mozzarella cheese.
- Bake at 375 for 30-45 minutes–or until it is bubbling on the side and the cheese is nice and brown.