Casserole Comfort

If you are like me, you grew up in the comforting embrace of a family that enjoyed casseroles on a weekly basis. And while I was born and raised in meat and potato land, I've made some tweaks to the casserole tradition:

If you think that topping looks like crumbled sausage, you aren't alone. But, surprise! It's a mixture of cracker crumbs, butter, and minced mushroom. And it tastes amazing, as does the casserole beneath it. If you think spinach is something to wrinkle your nose at, you might want to give this creamy casserole a try. Packed with fresh spinach, pasta, and creamy cheese, it's more than enough to fill up a hungry family without making meat a necessary ingredient. And hey, it gives you a chance to enjoy some of the season's finest produce in a way that will have everyone asking for second helpings.

A hearty dinner like this calls for traditional sides. I opted for soft bread sticks and cups of freshly-made applesauce. It's the kind of meal that has you thinking of growing up and enjoying the new tweaks that adulthood has added to those memories. Enjoy this tasty twist on the tried and true!

Cheesy Spinach Casserole

  • 16 oz. dried penne pasta
  • 8 oz. fresh baby spinach leaves, divided
  • 1 c. lowfat sour cream
  • 1/2 c. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 2 shallots, finely minced
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 c. shredded cheese — choose your favorite variety or combination
  • 1/2 sleeve butter crackers, such as Ritz
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 button mushrooms, finely minced (optional)

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Preheat the oven to 350° F.

While the pasta cooks, arrange half of the spinach in the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking pan.

Place the remainder of the spinach in a blender and add the sour cream, parmesan cheese, garlic, shallots, salt, and pepper. Blend the mixture until a thick sauce forms. If you cannot get the sauce to pull together, add a little cream, milk, or water to the blender until the mixture blends.

Toss the cooked, drained pasta with the sauce and arrange it over the fresh spinach leaves in the baking pan. Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the top of the pasta.

Crush the butter crackers and toss with the melted butter and minced mushroom. Sprinkle the crumb mixture evenly over the top of the shredded cheese. Place the baking pan in the preheated oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese is fully melted and the crumbs on the top are slightly golden.

  • Yields: 4-6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 40 minutes