It’s Sunday, and I’ve got a bit of a cold so I’m not feeling my best today. I’ve had a pretty healthy winter, so I guess I shouldn’t complain! Even though I’m feeling a bit under the weather, the work week is still looming, and it is time for me to make my weekly “big batch” food to have in my lunches. Often, when “big batch” day comes along, I go into the kitchen and do a little produce inventory. I hardly ever find myself running out to the store so that I can make a particular recipe. I usually just identify whatever items need to be used and then look for inspiration.
Last week, I ordered extra broccoli in my “Merry Produce Wednesday” box. If, by the way, you have found your way to my site thanks to the great newsletter prepared by Lisa at Washington’s Green Grocer, welcome to you!!! I’m glad you’re here!
I had a ton of broccoli, and I wanted to plan a dish around it. I considered making a lightened up broccoli cheese soup, but I enjoyed last week’s mushroom casserole so much that I decided to try something similar to that again this week. I wanted a casserole with a lot of flavor, a decent amount of protein and a hint of cheesy goodness. This is what I came up with:
“Big Batch” Broccoli and White Bean Bake
Nonstick Cooking Spray
Salt (for sprinkling on broccoli and salting the pasta water)
1/2 pound broccoli, cleaned and prepped (stems peeled and sliced, florets broken apart)
4 ounces uncooked whole wheat elbow pasta (I used Barilla Plus elbows in my points calculation)
1/2 tsp. olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
2 tsp. dried thyme
1 egg white
1 cup 1% lowfat cottage cheese
1/2 cup light sour cream
2 tsp. dijon mustard
3/4 tsp. salt
1 15 ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
4 ounces reduced fat sharp cheddar cheese, diced rather small (I used Cabot 75% reduced fat sharp cheddar in my points calculation)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Roasting the Broccoli:
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place a pot of water on the stove to heat to a boil for the pasta.
Spray two baking sheets well with nonstick cooking spray. Arrange broccoli florets and sliced stems on baking sheets in a single layer. Spray the broccoli with cooking spray and then sprinkle it with a bit of salt. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, remove from the oven, and set aside. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. After the broccoli has cooled a bit, place it on the cutting board and give it a rough chop.
Cooking the pasta:
Cook pasta according to package directions, and be sure to liberally salt the pasta water. When pasta is done, drain the water and set the pasta aside.
Sauteeing the Onions and Garlic:
While pasta and broccoli are cooking, Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute for 7 minutes. Add dried thyme to the skillet and saute for one more minute. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Combining the ingredients:
In a large bowl, beat the egg and egg white well. Add the cottage cheese, sour cream, dijon mustard and 3/4 tsp. salt. Mix thoroughly. Add the white beans, pasta, onion mixture and chunks of cheddar to the bowl and fold all ingredients in well. Add the broccoli, and stir it in combining all ingredients and making sure that everything is coated in the egg mixture.
Spray a 9×13 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Pour the broccoli mixture into the baking pan and smooth it out evenly. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the casserole from the oven, remove the aluminum foil, top with the parmesan cheese and bake uncovered for another 30 minutes until cheese is melted and edges are browned.
If you are a Weight Watcher, this makes 8 unofficial 4 point servings using the Barilla pasta and the Cabot cheese. You can certainly use other brands, but you may wish to recalculate the points.
I find that one of the easiest ways to cook with less fat and calories is to really infuse each component of a dish like this one with flavor. That’s why I suggest roasting the broccoli rather than steaming or boiling it. It’s easy, and it gives the broccoli a lot of flavor that really punches up the taste factor in the casserole. I often roast my broccoli this way and have it as a side dish. Those little browned crispy bits make me happy!
I hate wasting food, so I always use the stems of my broccoli. I remove the tough outer skin with my vegetable peeler and then slice the tender flesh that lurks under that tough exterior.
I’m not a big pasta eater at all, but, as I said, I’m not feeling great today and pasta is comforting. I find that I don’t need a lot of pasta in a dish like this, so I only included a rather modest amount. There are so many yummy things in here, that I didn’t see any reason to weigh it all down with a pasta majority. When you are using a small amount of pasta, a small pasta like these elbows is perfect because a handful of them can infiltrate a pretty big space. Salting the pasta water well will give the little elbows a good amount of flavor, so don’t forget the salt!
I decided to chop the cheese into little bitty cubes, rather than shredding or grating it, because I feel like it is less likely to get “lost” if I incorporate slightly larger pieces. I want to know that the cheese is in there, but I don’t want to have to use too much of it to accomplish that. If you can’t find the Cabot cheese I used where you live, no worries. You can use another cheese. Just try to find a reduced fat cheddar that is sharp or extra sharp, as the sharper cheese will provide more flavor in a smaller quantity. If you choose to use the pre-shredded type, it will be perfectly fine. I just think the little cubes are slightly better.
I added Dijon mustard to the “glue” mixture, because I find that a little bit of mustard really enhances the flavor of cheese.
You can see the bits of thyme used to infuse the onion and garlic mixture in here as well as the beans, which give this a creamy texture while adding fiber and protein. Win win! I used cannellini beans, but any small white bean will work just fine.
Cooking the casserole covered for half the time and then cooking uncovered after adding the cheese is another good way to enhance the presence of the cheese. Parmesan is a great topper because of its strong flavor. Here’s what the finished casserole looked like in the pan:
Now, I’m all set with something hearty and healthy to have for my lunches this week. I’m going to be eating luncheon food (plus my own snacks I’m sure…) on Thursday and Friday at an ABA conference, so I think I’m going to put a few servings of this casserole in the freezer. I love using the freezer! I’d much rather pull out a container of this than a sad store bought microwave dinner any day!
They say that as long as you are only sick from the neck up it is ok to work-out. I’ve found that sometimes it even makes me feel better. I’m going to finish polishing off my piece of casserole and then head to the gym. We’ll see how it goes. If it isn’t going well, I’ll abandon the effort in favor of a cup of tea. Hopefully, that won’t be the case.
I hope you try this recipe (let me know if you do!!), and I hope you have a great week!!