This week and next I’m on a mission. First, I’m using as few pots and pans as possible for each meal I post (because I only have a few in my empty kitchen now). Second, I also want to try to use up as much of the food that I’ve accumulated in my fridge/pantry/freezer as possible before I hit the road next weekend (30th).
That’s why I was super-excited when you guys voted for a casserole dish. It won by maybe the largest margin ever by the way. You all were really itching for a casserole and I knew it’d give me the chance to get rid of some stuff!
This, my friends, is a unique casserole. It’s actually based off of a recipe for a couscous casserole but I wasn’t going to go out and buy couscous just for this one dish so I decided to use some leftover quinoa I had on hand. It worked way better than I expected.
1) If you’re using quinoa, cook it according to package before starting casserole. Ideally, you could use leftover quinoa for this dish. Otherwise you can use couscous, but don’t pre-cook the couscous.
2) Start by slicing the squash/zucchini and laying it out on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes until soft but not soggy at all.
3) In a medium sauce pan, add about a tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and red peppers. Season with salt and pepper and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
4) Add tomatoes and spices and stir. Bring to a simmer and turn down heat.
5) Add quinoa or couscous and cook until thick. Taste for seasonings.
6) Butter a 9×9 baking dish and add a thin layer of sauce to the bottom of the dish. Then add a layer of vegetables and ricotta cheese.
7) Layer on most of the sauce, followed by more zucchini, followed by the rest of the ricotta and sauce. Top with grated parmesan cheese.
8) Bake at 350 degrees until hot and bubbling, about 30-40 minutes.
9) Let cool for a few minutes and serve.
This casserole was much better than it looks. In fact, even though I wasn’t actually trying to make it meaty, it turned out being more meaty than my vegetarian sloppy joes yesterday! The quinoa/tomato combo had great texture and flavor.
Prepping the Zucchini
This is actually a layered casserole dish and one of the layers is some sort of squash or zucchini. Use whatever you can find that looks really fresh. Probably this time of year, squash might be easier. Slice it not too thin and lay the slices on a baking sheet so they slightly overlap.
Then drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt and bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.
You want the slices to be slightly soft, but not soggy at all and not burned for sure.
These are about perfect. When you pull them out, just set them aside. We’ll use them later.
So like I said, I’ve been desperately trying to use up food I have before I leave for Colorado. I had a huge block of frozen quinoa in my freezer which was kind of the inspiration for this dish.
Want to see what frozen quinoa looks like? It’s not the most appealing thing in the world.
But honestly quinoa freezes perfectly fine and then you can add it to all kinds of soups or stews or whatever. It’s not quite as good as fresh if you just eat it alone, but it’s wonderful as an add-in which is why I freeze some when I make it!
If you don’t want to make a batch of quinoa for this casserole then you can definitely use couscous which you can just throw into the sauce at the end of it. That would be equally good I think and what the original recipe actually called for.
Before we add in the quinoa (or couscous), let’s build up some flavors.
First, in your pot (I only have one and it’s a medium sized one), add a good drizzle of olive oil (1 Tablespoon about) and set it over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, add the chopped onions and peppers.
Let this cook for a few minutes until the veggies are getting soft.
Then add the canned tomatoes along with a good pinch of salt and pepper, some paprika, and fresh thyme if you have some on hand (or dried is fine too). Stir this all together and let it simmer down for a few minutes.
Then go ahead and stir in either your quinoa or couscous! The couscous will soak up way more liquid than the quinoa. If you use quinoa, let it simmer for a few more minutes to get thick.
This is what you’re looking for.
Making the Casserole
Once you have the zucchini and sauce done, it’s time to put it all together. I decided to put in some layers of ricotta to make the dish a bit richer. You could also cook up some ground turkey/beef and add that to the mix.
Start by lightly buttering a 9×9 baking dish and spoon in a thin layer of sauce in the bottom. Then add a layer of squash/zucchini and crumble on some ricotta.
Then most of your remaining sauce, another layer of veggies, and more ricotta. Finish the dish off with a layer of sauce.
You can bake this right away or make it the day before and store it in the fridge until you need it.
When you’re ready to bake the casserole, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grate some Parmesan cheese on top of the casserole. The Parmesan cheese is optional, but I think it adds a good flavor.
I, of course, packed my grater so I just sliced of some thin slices and added those on top. Bake for about 30-40 minutes until it’s bubbling all over.
Let it cool for a minute and then serve it up!
This was kind of a messy dish but the flavor was awesome. If you use couscous I think it would firm up even more.
I was really impressed by the flavor and texture that the quinoa gave the dish though. Definitely a keeper.