Let me talk to you about how dinner used to come together in the Radeke household when I was a child. It was always quite the production, an all hands on deck situation. There were no fewer than three different cookbooks strewn about, and my dad would bounce back and forth between them excitedly, finding inspiration from every page. We were never a ‘follow the recipe to a tee’ kind of family, and often times what ended up on the table started as three (or four…or five…) different recipes. I mean, where’s the fun in playing by the rules, am I right?
Now that I’m all grown up and cooking for myself these days, I still find that I resort to my father’s technique of cobbling together different recipes to create one super recipe, and I’m usually the better for it (listen, I’m not batting 1000 here, there are definitely times this has not worked in my favor, but for the most part it ends well).
Take this fall vegetable noodle casserole for instance. This started as three recipes — one for broccoli noodle casserole, one for butternut squash mac and cheese, and one for a fall vegetable torte. I took bits and pieces from each one and smooshed ‘em together (technical term) to create the recipe below. This does take a little more than basic kitchen knowledge to pull off since you need to know what does and doesn’t go with what, and be able to adjust cooking times to ensure everything fits together nicely, but if you practice a few times, it’s not difficult to master.
It makes for a little fun, creative time in the kitchen and you’re left with a delicious, homey result that perfectly captures the flavors of Fall.
You ready? OK, let’s do this.
Fall Vegetable Noodle Casserole
For the vegetables and pasta:
8 ounces curly pasta (fusilli, gemelli or rotini are all great options)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 small head broccoli, chopped into small florets
1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 small bunch lacinato kale, de-stemmed and chopped
For the béchamel:
¾ cup milk
1 ½ cups reserved pasta cooking water
1 tablespoon flour
¼ teaspoon dried mustard
¼ teaspoon smoked paprika
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
zest from 1 lemon
4 ounces fontina cheese, shredded
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the breadcrumb topping:
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
¼ cup pecorino, shredded
juice from 1 lemon
drizzle of olive oil
Kitchen equipment: medium pot, baking or pie dish
First things first, preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
Cook the butternut squash and the pasta. Heat a medium pot of salted water on high until boiling. Add the butternut squash and cook for 7-9 minutes, until squash is tender and easily pierced with a fork. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon, but do not toss the water. Let the water come to a boil again and then add the pasta and cook for approximately 10-12 minutes, until pasta is al dente (you want it a little underdone since it will finish cooking in the oven). Drain the pasta, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water.
Make the béchamel. In the same pot you used to cook the squash and pasta, heat two teaspoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and fennel, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-4 minutes until the fennel is soft and fragrant. Next, add the flour, spices (mustard, smoked paprika and red pepper flakes) and olive oil. Stirring often, cooking for another 2-4 minutes until the flour is golden brown and the spices are toasted. Add the milk and the reserved pasta cooking water and let the sauce thicken, stirring occasionally another 2-4 minutes. Add the lemon zest and fontina, stirring until the cheese is completely melted and the sauce is nice and thick, then season with salt and pepper. Finally, add the broccoli, butternut squash and kale and stir to incorporate. Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked pasta.
Prep the breadcrumb topping. In a small bowl, combine the panko and the pecorino, tossing to incorporate. Add in the lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil and stir to evenly moisten.
Put it all together. Grab your baking dish and pour the pasta mixture into the dish, spreading evenly. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top and cook for approximately 12 minutes on the center rack of your oven. When the breadcrumbs are golden brown and the sauce is bubbling, remove from oven and let cool slightly.
Serve warm with a nice crisp glass of sauvignon blanc (or whatever wine suits your fancy) and relish in the cozy, warm flavors. It may have started as three different recipes, but it comes together as one perfect meal.