The casserole is a meal defined by the dish it is cooked in, rather than the ingredients used- that being said there are a few elements that most casseroles seem to have in common. The casserole is an American classic, gaining popularity in the 1950’s when a love for the simplicity of the one-dish meal took off. In order to pay homage to this American tradition, I tied the strings of my neat little red apron and got out the casserole dish.
There are a few elements I enjoy in a casserole. It should be filling (probably from a good amount of carbohydrates), have a creamy element, and have a crispy topping. There should also be enough different favors and textures that the dish can be served as a meal and stay interesting at every bite. This casserole is filling from the pasta, is baked in a creamy cashew sauce and is topped with a crispy, lemony kale. There are also thinly sliced yellow and green summer squash and other flavors popping up here and there.
The success in this casserole lies in cooking most of the parts independently, before combining them at the end. This allows the noodles to be soft, the onions to be nicely golden, and each piece of the summer squash to be cooked without getting mushy. The pasta, sauces and squash are layered in the casserole dish. The final element to cook is the kale- tossed in olive oil and lemon, the quick-cooking leaves reach a crisp and crunchy state on top of the assembled casserole.
As the casserole bakes in the oven, the kale cooks down to a crunch. The pasta, sauce, and the squash cook into each other, so their flavors blend delicately together.
Summer Squash, Kale, and Pasta Casserole
- 1 lb of pasta (macaroni or similarly shaped)
- 2 large zucchini or summer squash, sliced thinly
- ½ a cup of tomato sauce
- ½ an onion, diced
- 1 bunch of kale (around 12 oz), chopped into strips with thicker stems removed
- 2 TBSP olive oil (plus more for cooking-this can also be vegetable oil)
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- Salt, as needed.
- 1 cup of cashews (preferably not roasted or salted)
- Salt, to taste
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
1. Place the cashews in water to soak and set aside. Put on a pot of water to boil your pasta. Once it has begun to boil, make the pasta as directed. When the pasta is done, drain the noodles and set aside. Use the pot later to cook the onions.
2. In the meantime, heat a little oil in a large skillet. Cook each piece of thinly sliced zucchini or summer squash in batches. Sprinkle a little salt on the squash and for around 4 minutes, then flip and cook the other side. Continue to add oil as needed, until all the squash have been cooked. While you are doing this you can preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Prepare the cashew sauce by draining all but ½ cup of the water from the nuts. Add the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.
4. In the pot used to cook pasta, add a little oil and sauté the onions. Cook until they have become more flexible and translucent, than add the pasta and most of the cashew sauce (reserve a couple tablespoons) and mix together.
5. Massage the salt, lemon juice and olive oil into the kale.
6. Assemble the casserole. Start lightly greasing a 9×13 inch baking dish. Add a layer of squash, followed by a layer of pasta. Even spread the tomato sauce on top of that. Next add the remainder of the squash, and the rest of the pasta, pushing it down a little with a wooden spoon. Drizzle the remaining cashew cream on top, and finish by pressing all of the kale onto the top.
7. Bake for around 15 minutes, until the kale on top has darkened and gotten crispy. Serve immediately.