march 21, 2019
It would be easy to categorize this dish as a variation of macaroni and cheese, which is what we all tend to call pasta in a creamy, cheesy sauce. But there are veggies in this pasta, with a sauce made creamy from blended white beans and artichoke hearts, as well as feta cheese, and green peas and roasted red pepper nestled among the noodles. This, my friends, is not your mother’s mac and cheese.
Many kids today, and a fair number of grownups, know macaroni and cheese as a boxed mix, with garishly colored cheese sauce and a uniform, predictable flavor and texture. You can develop a taste for this stuff and never know the real thing, which is pleasantly lumpy and chock full of real cheese flavor without the added taste agents commercial food manufacturers use to give that wow factor. If you like the real thing and want a change with more fiber and veggies, this is the easy recipe for you.
Creamy carbs are a comfort meal and side for many of us—don’t deprive me of my mashed potatoes!—and soft cooked pasta with a cheesy binder fits the bill for comfort supreme. What’s great about this recipe is the powerful vegetables which make up the binding sauce : white beans and artichoke hearts. Texture and color from roasted red peppers and frozen peas are a plus, especially when you’re trying to sneak in some veggies to your picky eater’s plate.
The sauce requires no cooking—a food processor or mini chop will whirl the ingredients until creamy, and you simply toss it with just cooked pasta and bake in a casserole dish after sprinkling on a crumb topping.
Inspiration for the sauce came from this recipe for Herb and Artichoke White Bean Dip, which I made over the winter holiday and served with homemade crackers. Fiddling with the basic recipe, I thought it would make a lovely and flavorful sauce for a weeknight vegetarian pasta dish. While the fabulous flavor of this dip was still fresh in my mind, I invited friends over for a pasta bake with salad. My tasters/guests loved the lemony bite and colorful veggies (as it would happen, the red and green matched the holiday napkins at the table and added festive flair). I loved that this dish would make a fair number of sides and a good number of entree portions, with very little effort. And it freezes nicely, with easy oven reheating for those evenings when you want comfort from the kitchen and not from the box. Once you see how simple it is to make it homemade, you may never again pick up a boxed mix.
Bean and Artichoke Pasta Bake
recipe by Michele Humlan, The Good Eats Company
makes 4-6 entree portions or 6-8 side dish portions
14 ounce can artichoke hearts (plain, not marinated), drained
15 ounce can white beans (cannellini or great northern), rinsed and drained
juice of one medium lemon
8 ounces feta cheese
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
large garlic clove, zested on microplane grater
¼ teaspoon each fine sea salt and ground white pepper
12 ounces frozen peas
12 ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained and diced
8 ounces gluten free (or regular) pasta
2 cups fresh bread crumbs *
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
pinch fine sea salt
*cook’s note : grind fresh bread in food processor for crumbs and store in freezer for later use
- Process artichoke hearts, beans, lemon juice, feta, garlic, salt and pepper in food processor or mini chop; can be made up to 2 days ahead; if chilled, bring to room temperature while pasta cooks.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Bring water to boil in two quart saucepan with a good pinch of kosher salt.
- Add pasta and stir; when water begins to look cloudy after about 6-8 minutes, test for doneness —your goal is tender and not al dente; add peas to pasta and cook one minute longer.
- Drain and rinse pasta and peas,and combine with roasted red peppers and bean/artichoke sauce in large mixing bowl.
- Pour mixture into greased two quart baking or casserole dish.
- In small bowl, toss fresh bread crumbs with 1 tablespoon olive oil and pinch of salt with clean hands until nicely coated and scatter atop sauced pasta.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
- Serve hot; may be frozen and reheated later.