Monday, January 16, 2012

Tofu & Eggplant No-Boil Pasta Bake

I have a confession to make:  I absolutely hate cooking grains.   

I've probably made mushy pasta once in my entire life and rice isn't terribly complicated to cook, but I live in fear when it comes to grains.  In the case of pasta, the trepidation begins in the grocery store when I'm faced with the crippling decision of what type of pasta to buy--whole grain or refined [IMO: Whole grain tastes great with tomato-based sauced, but refined (white) is better, flavor-wise, for cheese-based sauces].  Then, when I get down to the nitty gritty of actually cooking it, I have to decide to salt or not salt the water (I actually prefer one bouillon cube); rinse or not rinse the pasta (never rinse unless you're making a pasta salad!); and, prepare a tomato-based, cheese-based, or oil-based sauce.  It probably doesn't help that chefs who cook rice and pasta on cooking shows are usually crucified by the judges.  So, I am partially justified in telling you that I ceremoniously breathe a sigh of relief each and every time my pasta is perfectly cooked al dente and my rice fluffs properly.  

Imagine my excitement when I received a recipe for a Chicken & Tomato No-Boil Pasta Bake from The Kitchn.  I knew it was something that I absolutely had to make and I bookmarked the recipe for future reference.  Fast forward several months later and I am frantically thinking of ways to use several perishables in the refrigerator (i.e. cottage cheese, spinach, and eggplant).  Dip?  Hmmm... maybe.  No-Boil Pasta Bake?  Yes, yes, yes, most definitely!  The rest is history.  

I borrowed heavily from The Kitchn in this recipe, but I made it my own by substituting chicken for tofu, adding diced eggplant, and layering julienned spinach and thinly sliced tomato across the top.  I was scurred (scared) the cottage cheese would throw off the flavor content, but this pasta is to die for.  This will definitely be coming a staple in my kitchen.  After all, it's psuedo-healthy and doggone delicious!

No-Boil Tofu & Eggplant Pasta Bake (Modified from The Kitchn)
serves 4 to 6
8 ounces (1/2 pound) dried rigatoni pasta, uncooked
1 tub extra firm tofu, chopped into small logs
4 large cloves garlic, roughly minced
1/2 of one large eggplant, diced
2 cups cottage cheese
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
3 cups fresh spinach, julienned
Freshly ground black pepper & 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
2 cups milk * (
see Note)
Cheesy Basil Topping
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh herbs, such as basil, thyme, and sage
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Heat the oven to 400°F and lightly grease a 3-quart casserole dish with olive oil. (Ideally you would use a heavy Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, but you can also use a standard 9x13-inch casserole pan, tightly covered with a double layer of aluminum foil during baking.)
In a large bowl, mix the dried pasta, chopped tofu, minced garlic, and diced eggplant. Stir in the salt and a healthy quantity of black pepper.  Stir in the cottage cheese. Spread this mixture in the prepared baking dish and layer the thinly sliced tomatoes and spinach on top.  Pour the milk over top. Cover the dish tightly. Bake for 50 minutes, or until the pasta is tender. Remove the dish from the oven and turn the oven up to broil.
Meanwhile, prepare the herb topping. In a small food processor or chopper, whiz the breadcrumbs, cheese, herbs, salt, and a few grinds of black pepper. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, blending until the texture resembles wet sand.
Slowly remove the lid (or foil) from the casserole dish. Be careful, as steam will billow out. Spread the herbed breadcrumbs over the bubbling pasta and return the uncovered dish to the oven. Broil for 5 minutes or until the topping is toasted and crispy on top.
Take the casserole out of the oven and let it cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Eat with a green salad and a glass of red wine.
Note: The more fat in your milk, the thicker and more luxurious this dish will be. I have only made this with whole milk, which worked very well. I see no reason why lower-fat milks would not work as well, but they may be soupier, with a thinner sauce, when you first remove them from the oven. 

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