Monday, 12 September 2011

Meatless Monday - Easy Vegetarian Pasta Bake


Autumn is pretty much here in England, with the trees changing colour (although not as spectacularly as in North America) and the days getting shorter, cooler and even wetter. As a result, most people are beginning to crave comfort food. This dish is a great bridge between the seasons as it uses any vegetables you might have on hand from the garden, even if you only have little bits of several things. It’s also great with summer squash and zucchini so is perfect if you have a glut of those. You really can use anything you like - I suggest any colour peppers, tender green beans zucchini, summer squash or thinly sliced carrots. Seriously, any vegetables you have on hand are fine. 
If you are a strict vegetarian, do be sure to use vegetarian cheeses. It’s worth reading labels as so many cheeses are made using animal based rennet. You can also use vegan cheeses in this recipe. This recipe is a great way to use up leftover cheese slices or ends of grated cheese. Please do use packaged slices of actual cheese though and not processed cheese, which is best avoided whenever possible, and is almost always made using animal rennet.
I like to use whole wheat pasta in this recipe to make it even more nutritious. However if you are on a gluten-free diet, you can of course use gluten free pasta as well. If you don’t have any pesto to hand, simply substitute 1 teaspoon of dried basil, but the pesto really does add a lovely texture and flavour to the dish.
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 large onion, very finely chopped
about two to three cups of chopped vegetables
2 - 14 ounce cans passata (sieved tomatoes - organic if possible)
1 teaspoon oregano
¼ cup basil pesto (optional)
¼ teaspoon pepper
8 to 9 ounces pasta shapes (I like to use penne or fusilli, but any shapes will work)
3 to 4 large cheese slices (cheddar or mozzarella style cheeses work well)
½ cup grated cheese (as above)
Preheat the oven to 350℉ (175℃). I set my fan oven to about 160℃ as it can be very fierce.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Saut√© the onion for five to seven minutes or until slightly softened. Add the remaining vegetables and stir fry for a few minutes until tender crisp. Add the passata and the seasonings, reduce the heat and simmer for about twenty minutes. 
Meanwhile cook the pasta according to package directions. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the pan with the sauce in it. Stir lightly to mix.
Transfer half the mixture to a large oven-safe casserole dish. Lay the cheese slices over top. Add the remaining pasta and sauce, and sprinkle the grated cheese over top. Bake in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cheese melts and turns a light golden brown. 

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