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    Easy, delicious, chilli pasta casserole

    Ann Maloney

    THE WASHINGTON POST – I’m a sucker for a casserole, especially one made with pasta, sauce, meat and cheese. I love digging a big spoon into it and filling my dish with the comforting scoops that still have curls of steam rising off them.

    Casseroles taste good, yes, but also, if you’re the cook in your house, you know they typically use fewer pots and often can be made with shelf-stable ingredients or refrigerator mainstays. Plus, they can fill you up when your wallet is a bit thin.

    While cruising through the Seriously Good Chilli Cookbook by Brian Baumgartner, the actor who portrayed chilli expert Kevin Malone on NBC’s The Office, I discovered what has quickly become a new favourite: chilli pasta casserole.

    Baumgartner, who became famous for a chilli-spilling scene on the hit NBC sitcom and has embraced his chilli connection, collected more than 170 recipes from cook-off winners, chefs and regular folks.

    He got this dish from Sara Lundberg of Portland, Oregon, who is a cookbook author and founder of Budget Savvy Diva, a lifestyle blog. Lundberg has five children, so she’s definitely zeroed-in on the importance of getting a thrifty dinner on the table fast.

    In her recipe, Lundberg cooked the dish on the stove in a large skillet and then transferred it all to a nine-by-13-inch pan, but we used a large, ovenproof pan and that left us with one less pan to clean. (The pan must hold about 14 cups total).

    If, however, you want to make the dish ahead, use the casserole dish. It can be assembled and refrigerated so it is ready to be baked just before serving. This recipe also freezes really well. I froze it in two-person portions – the size of our household – and had three delicious meals at my fingertips.

    The ease of assembly and freezing makes this a great option for potlucks, parties or game-day festivities, especially for weeknight football watching.

    This also is dish that is easy to vary to your own taste, too. If you’re not a beef eater, substitute with ground turkey or chicken. Or go vegetarian with a plant-based meat or add another can of beans. If you want to slip vegetables in there, toss spinach, kale, peas or corn into the mixture and cook them down a bit before you add the pasta.

    The best part is that the casserole takes 15 to 20 minutes to assemble. Then you pop it in the oven for 20 minutes, which gives you time to clean up any kitchen mess and make a green salad.

    When the casserole is bubbling and ready to dig into, Lundberg recommends a generous dollop of sour cream on top. I concur.

    Chilli pasta casserole. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

    CHILLI PASTA CASSEROLE

    Ingredients

    – Eight ounces short pasta, such as orecchiette, small shells or elbows

    – Two teaspoons vegetable oil

    – Five ounces white onion, chopped

    – One pound lean ground beef (90 per cent lean or higher) or 12 ounces plant-based meat

    – 15-ounce can no-salt-added tomato sauce

    – 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

    – 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed

    – 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes and green chillies

    – Quarter cup water

    – One tablespoon, plus one-and-a-half teaspoons chilli powder

    – Two teaspoons ground cumin

    – One-eighth teaspoon cayenne pepper

    – One-eighth teaspoon fine salt

    – One-eighth teaspoon finely ground black pepper

    – Four ounces shredded cheddar cheese

    – Half cup sour cream, for serving

    – Quarter cup chopped scallions, for serving

    Directions

    Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

    Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions until al dente, then drain.

    In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent, about five minutes. Add the beef and cook, stirring, until browned, about five minutes.

    Add the tomato sauce, beans, diced tomatoes and green chillis, water, chilli powder, cumin, cayenne, salt, and pepper to the skillet. Stir to combine and cook until warmed through, about five minutes.

    Transfer the pasta to the skillet and stir to combine. Sprinkle evenly with the cheese and bake for about 20 minutes, or until bubbling and heated through.

    Divide among bowls and serve with the sour cream and scallions on top or on the side.

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