Thursday, November 3, 2011

Warming Winter Meals

This week I am surviving on pasta bake and vegetable soup, both of which I made enough of over the weekend to keep me going for awhile. I had a lot of pumpkin to make use of (and I have still more!) so I am very vegetarian this week, and below I will try to approximate my vegetable pasta bake, although I can't quite remember what proportions I used. I tend to just add stuff until no more will fit but I know a lot of people are not comfortable with just making it up as they go along. It's a great sort of thing for the winter, pasta bakes are sort of like stews and lasagne in that they are warm and filling and more-ish; perfect for the end of a long day at work. They are very re-heatable as well, so you can put portions in the fridge or freezer and have a ready-made meal waiting for you when you get home. Not only is it choc-full of a variety of vegetables, but it's topped off by a creamy cheese sauce, which is what one of my flatmates used to do in my second year of uni and we would always be fighting over the leftovers, it was just so good!
Vegetable Pasta Bake

1 tablespoon oil
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
1 small pumpkin/butternut (about 1 kilo?)
2 large carrots
1 large bunch of kale/cabbage or spinach
About a cup or so of dried pasta, like fusilli or penne or bow-ties
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon balsalmic vinegar
3 cups water
1 cube beef stock
1 tablespoon bisto powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano and thyme

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1/4 cup grated parmesan (or some other, less strong cheese)

To begin with, turn the oven on to 180 degrees celsius and leave it to heat while you prepare your dish. You need a big square or rectangle lasagne dish for this.

First take the skin off of the pumpkin and chop it into chunks (say about 2 cm square). Chop the carrot up roughly and shred the cabbage/kale/spinach (this can be left out if you don't like it). Then chop the onion up and crush the garlic. Heat the oil in a large pan and first cook the onion and garlic, then add everything else. Add in the pasta, the tomatoes and most of the water. Mix the bisto (gravy powder) into the last of the water before adding to the pan. Add the vinegar, stock, herbs and then salt and pepper to taste.

Now you can either leave the vegetable mixture to simmer a bit or put it straight in the dish that you are going to bake it in. It doesn't make much difference, you will bake it until it's really cooked anyway.

In a medium sized saucepan melt the butter and then add the flour to it. The consistency should be like a slightly dry paste, but it should not seem floury. Cook this paste for a minute or two and then start adding the milk really slowly, like a half cup at a time. After each addition stir the sauce well so that there are no lumps and it is smooth and thick. By the time you get to the end of the milk it may not seem very thick but if you just keep it on low heat for awhile it will thicken. Add the cheese and some salt and pepper.

So to put the meal together, fill your large, square dish with the vegetable mixture (and I hope that it all fits!). Spoon the cheese sauce over the top and then if you like you could sprinkle over more cheese, or breadcrumbs. I remember my mum used to top such things with breadcrumbs and slices of tomato. Which I did not like but these days I would probably not mind because vegetables are no longer gross.

Bake for about 45 minutes, until the pasta is cooked and the vegetables are really soft and infused with the sauce.

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