Vegetable Casserole

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Pasta dishes are one of my favorite dinners. From spaghetti and meatballs to baked ziti, I use an innovative and holistic  approach to enjoying these dishes without the guilt of consuming the excess amount of fat. There are over a 100 casserole recipes and vegetables does give the pasta a healthy and hearty balance. This dish retains the creaminess without the heavy cream and butter. I include my cheese sauce that curtails the calories, fat content and cholesterol. This cheese sauce is plentiful and can be put away for later use. I use onions,mushrooms,tomatoes, zucchini, and spinach for this dish but this dish can be savored with many other produce. You can use squash, asparagus, broccoli,peppers,carrots, etc. I recommend fresh spinach if using. Rather than sauteing it with the other vegetables, I add it after the penne  (a.k.a. ziti pasta), and vegetables have been mixed well. The reason for this is to preclude the spinach leaves from wilting. When it comes to using raw vegetables, its important that they are washed well and thoroughly to clean out any chemicals or insects that might be imbedded in them. I have happened to have caught a small worm making its way around raw broccoli that I was going to prepare. Since we are forbidden from eating bugs, we are required to check our raw produce before using them.

For the cheese sauce, you will need:

  1. 4 tablespoons of  Earth Balance or Mazola Lite butter/margarine
  2. 4 tablespoons of all purpose flour
  3.  3 1/2 – 4 cups of low fat milk
  4.  1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg
  5.  Salt and pepper for seasoning

Instructions

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the hot milk to the butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg, and set aside until ready to use.

For the casserole, you will need:

  1. 1 lb of  whole wheat/whole grain Penne Pasta
  2. 2 Medium Zucchini, diced
  3. 2 Garlic Cloves
  4. 1 large onion chopped
  5. 4 cups of Fresh Sliced Mushrooms
  6. 3 tomatoes chopped
  7. 2 Big Handfuls of Fresh Baby Spinach, washed and dried
  8. 2 cups of reduced fat shredded mozzarella
  9.  2 cups of reduced fat shredded cheddar
  10.  Salt and Pepper to taste
Instructions
Fill a large pot with water and sprinkle in a generous pinch of salt. Bring to boil and add the pasta. Cook according to package instructions. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Grease a large non-stick skillet with cooking spray and add the garlic and onions. Saute over medium until garlic and onions are caramelized and fragrant. Add the zucchini, tomatoes, and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 7 to 8 minutes or until the veggies start to cook down and start to develop a nice golden brown color. Drain the pasta and add it back into the hot pot. Add the sauteed vegetables, spinach and about 3 cups of  cheese sauce  to the pasta. Stir everything together until the cheese sauce  is coating every piece of pasta. Add half of each kind of cheese and mix all together. Place in a casserole dish and top it with the remaining sauce and cheeses.  Bake covered for 45 minutes and bake  uncovered for the remaining 15 minutes.  Serve hot.
Yields 6 servings
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