Yes, I know, who puts squash in their casseroles? I certainly wouldn't have thought of it, save that I was given three squash (squashen?) of the summer garden squash variety... and the weather's too hot for soup. I have some excellent squash soup recipes filed that I need to make come winter--but why is it that squash is a summer vegetable that seems to be featured primarily in autumnal and wintery dishes?
So this was a complete experiment. I baked the dish altogether without cheese, but since it made such a voluminous finished product, I was reheating portions for the following two weeks. And cheese was a vast improvement, once I bought some and added it.
A little preface: I made this dish out of desperation. I had just gotten a new job--my first job!--completely outside of my comfort zone. I had just moved out on my own--also, officially, for the first time--and was going through that painful, awkward stage when I had enough food to get by, but not enough to make the food actually taste good. I didn't have a full larder--I had a box of cereal, a bag of rice, some pasta, and whatever was left behind in the house or that I'd been given by my sympathetic professor-friends.
In short, I was hungry. And I had an eclectic pantry.
There were so many things that could have gone wrong. There is no way this should have tasted ... well … edible.
Squash Pasta Bake of Desperation
1/2 16oz box of radiatore pasta
1 10oz can whole tomatoes
2 yellow summer squash, 7-8 inches in length and 2-3 inches in diameter
2 1/2 cups mixed peas & carrots
herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage) & spices (cardamom, turmeric, cloves) to taste
I preheated the oven to 400 degrees and then set about skinning and cubing the squash. And yes, squash have seeds, and yes you ought to remove them if they are likely to bother you. Summer squash are an awkward enough shape, however, that cleaning out the seeds is difficult. I opted to keep them in the dish--hey, how bad could it be? As with most other vegetables and things, the seeds are actually one of the more nutritious parts. As I said, I cubed the squash, roughly in 1/2 inch cubes. If you like things chunkier, cut them chunkier ... whatever suits your fancy.
Meanwhile, I cooked the radiatore for 6 minutes or until approximately half-done. If you're making a pasta bake, this is a good way to ensure that your pasta is thoroughly cooked and yet not dry and tough. I prefer radiatore pasta to any other pasta I know, mostly because the definitive rippled outer edge catches and holds more sauce than other pasta shapes. And as everyone knows, I'm a saucy lady.
While the pasta was cooking, I went back to the squash.
Having a little experience with squash in other recipes, I was pretty sure that a half hour in the oven wasn't going to cook the squash thoroughly enough for my tastes, so I pan-fried the cubed squash with just a touch of olive oil until char marks appeared on the squash, and then I removed them from the heat. Char may be too harsh of a word, but there you go.
The squash and the pasta finished at around the same time, which was perfect enough. I sprayed a little olive oil into a corningware casserole dish that my predecessor had left handily by, and combined all of the ingredients in it. Ta-DA! It really is almost as simple as that, unless you are hopeless at combining herbs and spices. I recommend being liberal with the herbs and reserved with the spices. Those that I included I'm very familiar with, and I definitely recommend them to any and all who care to listen. You can't go wrong with rosemary, sage, and thyme. As for the cardamom, turmeric, and cloves--they add a punch of warmth to any dish, something that can often be lacking in meatless dishes.
Oh, and yes, I cook almost completely without salt and pepper. I grew up without it, and I still live without it. It's better for one's health to go without, but if you're a typical American I'll forgive you for your addictions.
Also, this dish is not complete without a little cheese. Parmesan is perfect, in all its sharpness, since it adds flavor and texture without the grease. Even though there's very little you can do to hurt this recipe, I wouldn't use any other cheese with this recipe. I WOULD use 2-3 fresh roma tomatoes instead of the canned ones (I used what was on hand), and I WOULD recommend adding fresh chopped celery, spring onions, broccoli, and maybe even some chicken if your tastes run to the carnivorous end of the spectrum, but the dish is quite good as it stands.