Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Baked Penne with Summer Squash, Tomatoes, and Basil

This was dinner last night. I have to say that it was pretty darn FABULOUS! Here's what a loved about this dinner: #1 It was deee-licious. #2 It used inexpensive seasonal ingredients. #3 My family liked it AND #4 it got my kids to eat a few veggies. Here's the downside: 1) It was time consuming to prepare 2) it's fairly high in fat and calories. Although, I did lighten this up a bit, using half and half instead of heavy whipping cream.

I found this recipe in Cover & Bake (Best Recipes)from Cook's Illustrated. No doubt, I am a big fan of Cook's Illustrated. This is the same cookbook where I discovered Skillet Cincinnati Chili back in February. I still dream about that stuff! But as I was preparing this recipe, I was sort of complaining to a friend over the phone, "Geez, these Cook's Illustrated recipes are SO detailed." This led us to a discussion about cookbooks and eventually my friend asked the question, "So what's your favorite cookbook to cook from right now?" To which I answered, "Anything from Cook's Illustrated." Why? Well, because the recipes are SO detailed. I love finding out the history behind the recipes that I am preparing and it's interesting to read all of the steps and trials that the Cook's Illustrated experts went through to come up the best possible end result. I mean, they test the heck out of the recipes that appear in their cookbooks! Which leads me to the final reason that I enjoy their recipes...almost every recipe that I have tried from their collections turns out pretty perfect (with the exception of one...and I can't remember which one it was now.)

This recipe uses 1 lb. of zucchini and 1 lb. of yellow squash. I sliced the zucchini in half first and then cut it into 1/2" slices, as recommended. I got two big beautiful zucchini from my local farmer's market last week for $1. Not too shabby. : )

Then I salted all of the chopped zucchini and yellow squash and set it aside in a colander to drain. (I used sea salt...kosher is fine too) The salt helps to draw out the moisture. I was surprised at how much water drained off of the squash.

While the squash drained, I set about preparing the bread crumb topping for my casserole. Fresh bread crumbs are really the best for this recipe, but I shuddered at the recommendation to use my food processor. First of all, I'd have to haul the whole thing out from the bottom of my pantry, then assemble it, and worst of all...clean it when I was finished. Yuck. I almost reached for the prepared bread crumb can in my pantry...and then inspiration hit and I grabbed my coffee grinder. After washing out all traces of coffee and slightly toasting my bread (I'd just purchased it that morning and I didn't want it to get all gummy in the grinder), I tore the bread into pieces and pulsed it in the coffee grinder.

It worked beautifully for making bread crumbs. Genius!

When the squash finished draining, I further dried it by patting with paper towels and then I transferred half into a skillet with a tablespoon of heated olive oil.

You want to cook the squash until it's golden brown...

and slightly charred. Then repeat with the remaining squash and another tablespoon of olive oil.

In between stirring the squash so that it evenly browned, I prepared the remaining ingredients. I chopped 6 medium shallots.

And a pint of grape tomatoes. The original recipe called for cherry tomatoes, but these grape tomatoes were on sale for 99 cents a pint at my local supermarket. I just cut them in half. I also chopped the basil and parsley for the sauce.

Once the squash is cooked to specifications, then wipe the skillet with a paper towel and add more olive oil, and saute the shallots until tender and slightly browned.

My oldest daughter arrived on the scene via the playroom while I was sauteing the shallots. "I want steak!" She announced as she breezed into the kitchen. This summer brought a new favorite meal into my daughter's life: Cowboy Steaks with Shallot Butter. Now whenever my kid sees steaks thawing on our kitchen counter, she asks, "Do you have any shallots, mommy? Will you PLEASE make the sauce! Puh-lease!" I've made shallot butter for our steaks at least 4 times this summer. The other day when I was chopping shallots for a batch of chili, she was watching. "Ooooh. Shallots. Do you want me to get some steak from the freezer?" She asked. She's possibly the only kid in her class that knows what a shallot looks like. Don't think that I'm not proud. Consequently, whenever she smells shallots sauteing, she assumes that we're having steak for dinner....and she's excited. (She inherited my carnivore gene). Unfortunately, tonight I had to burst her little bubble, "Oh honey. We're not having steak. I'm making pasta." Her face dropped for a minute and she gave me a disappointed, "Oh." But just as quickly, her face lit up and she asked, "Can I help?" To which I answered, "Of course!" I really do love our time in the kitchen together.

Once the shallots are tender, throw in 4 cloves of minced garlic and cook for another 30 seconds, until fragrant. Then stir in 1/4 cup of flour. Cook for another minute or so, until golden. I ended up adding another tablespoon of olive oil here, as the mixture was really dry.

Whisk in chicken broth and then cream, and cook and stir while it bubbles and thickens slightly.

Then stir in the grated Parmesan.

And the fresh herbs.

Give it a stir and then taste to see if you need to add salt or pepper.

Here's my taste tester, already in her pajamas before dinner after a grueling 3rd day of gym class and story time at kindergarten. She gave the sauce and taste and then savored and pondered for a moment. "Hmm. Maybe a little sea salt and some freshly ground pepper would work nicely, Mom." I try my best to keep a straight face as I grab for the recommended ingredients. I mean, this kid can eat pizza rolls and Ramen noodles with the best of them, but she really is developing into quite a food snob.

As I tossed together the pasta (I used mostaccioli rather than penne as it was on sale for $1/box at the grocery this week)and the veggies, my daughter announced, "I am NOT eating that!" To which I answered, "Oh yes, you are. This is what's for dinner." Sometimes when I lay down the gauntlet like this she flies into a whining, pleading, negotiating frenzy. (Apparently her carnivorous tendencies are not the only trait she inherited from me.) But today she just requested, "Can't I just have a bowl of that gravy instead?" When I answered with a "No ma'am.", she dropped it. Surprisingly. Man, she must have been tired!

Sorry that the color in this shot is so yellow. I'm not sure why...

Pour "the gravy" over the pasta and veggies and toss until everything is coated.

Then, spread the mixture into a casserole dish.

Top it with the bread crumbs and bake at 400 degrees until golden brown and bubbly.

Then, dish it up!

The vegetables mingling with the pasta, coated with that delicious shallot-cream-herb sauce, and topped with the crunchy golden bread crumbs was amazing! I know that I said that one of the reasons I liked this recipe is that it got my kids to eat their veggies. Well, it wasn't just the fact that the squash and tomatoes were coated in this decadent sauce that did the trick. It still took some prompting. About halfway through this meal, I noticed that my toddler was devouring the pasta and pushing the veggies to the side. "Hey, lady!" I called her out. "You need to eat your veggies too." To which she answered, "No! Yucky. I not yike STUPID veggies." ("Stupid" is her favorite word right now. She says it with amazing clarity and I am trying desperately to banish it from her vocabulary.) I didn't let it go (I mean the veggie issue, not that fact that she described the veggies as stupid). "No veggies?! But veggies make you grow big...and STRONG!" I punctuated this statement with my best muscle-flexing impression of a body builder, complete with Hulk Hogan sound effects. Both girls collapsed into giggles. Then, my oldest popped a bite of zucchini into her mouth and copied my impersonation. More laughter. Not to be outdone, my toddler shoved a forkful of squash into her mouth and struck her own "muscle man" pose. Dinner continued on this way. Bites of vegetables and body builder sounds and poses. Unconventional table manners, no doubt, but when dinner was all said and done, both girls had cleaned their plates, and by my estimation, ingested a serving of vegetables. Yay!

Baked Penne with Summer Squash, Tomatoes, and Basil from Cook's Illustrated

Topping :

4 slices white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1 lb zucchini, halved lengthwise, sliced ½” thick
1 lb yellow summer squash, halved lengthwise, ½” thick
Kosher salt
¾ lb penne
4 Tbsp olive oil
6 medium shallots, minced
4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press
¼ c flour
2 ½ c low- sodium chicken broth
1 ½ c heavy cream (half and half or even milk would work here.)
2 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
¾ c chopped fresh basil leaves
¼ c chopped fresh parsley leaves
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
Salt and pepper, to taste

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat to 400.
Toss zucchini and squash with 2 Tbsp kosher salt and place in a colander and set inside a large bowl to drain, about 30 minutes. Bring 4 quarts water to boil over high heat. Stir in 2 Tbsp kosher salt and pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain pasta and return to pot and toss with 1 Tbsp oil. Set aside.

Process the bread and butter in a food processor fitted with steel blade until coarsely ground, about six 1 seconds pulses. Set aside.

Spread salted squash evenly over a double layer of paper towels and pat dry with additional towels. Wipe off any residual salt. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in large nonstick skillet over high heat until smoking. Add half the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and slightly charred, 5-7 minutes. Transfer squash to plate. Add another 1 Tbsp oil to pan and repeat with remaining squash.

Wipe skillet clean with paper towels.
Add 1 Tbsp oil to skillet and return to medium-high heat until shimmering.
Add shallots and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minute. Slowly whisk in broth and cream. Bring to simmer and cook, whisking often, until lightly thickened, about 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in Parmesan, basil, and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the sauce, tomatoes, and sauteed squash to pasta, stir gently to combine. Pour pasta into 9x13 baking dish and sprinkle with bread crumb topping. Bake until bubbling and crumbs are lightly browned, about 15 minutes.



Inspired by eRecipeCards said...

love the recipe, but really think that is such a great photo of your daughter... excellent shot

teresa said...

that looks SOOOO yummy! i love the veggies and how creamy it is!

Mary Bergfeld said...

What a terrific meal. I love the clarity with which you present your recipes. This is really nicely done. I hope you are having a great day. Blessings...Mary

Mary | Deep South Dish said...

I'll bet that was good! You daughter is growing so fast - she just beautiful too.

Kristen said...

I love recipes that use garden veggies. This turned out beautifully with all of the colors and textures. I love how you used your coffee grinder for the bread crumbs. I use mine for spices, but hadn't thought to use it for crumbs.

Sinful Southern Sweets said...

Your little taste tester is just beautiful!! And good gosh, that cream sauce looks heavenly!!

Heather S-G said...

It totally does not get much better than this. Healthy, delicious, comforting...I'll take a big plate ;)

Heidi said...

We are overwhelmed (in a mostly good way :) with squash, tomatoes, etc. from our crop share and I was wondering if you think this is the type of meal you could freeze before baking? I'm having a baby in September and we'll still need healthy meals that allow me to take care of a toddler and newborn... if they use our surplus of vegetables, even better!!

Krista said...


Hello! I'm sorry that I did not see your question earlier. I haven't tried freezing this. My guess is that it would taste fine once thawed and baked, but the texture make not be stellar. I would definitely wait to add the bread crumbs before baking rather freezing them with the casserole.

If you decide to freeze a batch, please let me know how it turns out. Congratulations on the new baby!
I froze quite a few meals ahead of time when I was expecting my 2nd daughter. It seemed that my then 3 year old and the new baby were both "melting down" around dinner time. I was grateful that I could just pop something in the oven and return my attention to the kiddos on those days. Good luck! : )

Related Posts with Thumbnails