Who doesn't love a good pasta bake? It's like a casserole that doesn't suck. I generally dislike casseroles since I can't eat them, but I've altered this one to my anti-cow diet. By anti-cow I mean no cow dairy, which means no cow cheese, milk, sour cream, milk protein, ice cream, cream, etc. I can, however, have sheep and goat cheese! For tonight's dinner, I used pecorino romano (hard sheep cheese, grated) and daiya vegan shredded mozzarella cheese (unlike other "fake" cheese, it melts well)!
To clarify, I'm allergic to milk, not lactose intolerant (even though my friends like to call me "lactarded"--I love you all, just some more than others :)). For those of you that can take a pill to eat cow dairy, or if you naturally excel at lactase production, you can alter this recipe to your own cow favorites (parmesan and light mozzarella, although I recommend at least trying the pecorino.)
Almost everything in this recipe has a natural substitution. The only exceptions are probably the spices. If you want to use fresh spices, the simmering time for the sauce is lessened.)
It's so weird writing down what I do in the kitchen; it's quite the structured experience. Normally if you ask me how much oregano I put in this dish, I just say something like "until it covers half of the top of the sauce," as if that makes any sense...
Anyway... here's my first recipe:
1 lb of ground beef (can substitute -- in order of my own preference -- ground buffalo, ground veal, ground pork, ground turkey, soy meat or tofu... maybe even more mushrooms if you dislike meat taste...)
1/2 chopped onion (preferably sweet/yellow onion, but white works too - chew gum while you cut it to avoid mascara runs)
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 - 28oz and 1-14 oz tomato sauce/crushed tomatoes (if you like your sauce thicker, add a tomato paste can to this recipe)
6 oz of chopped portobello mushroom caps
1/2 T of salt (less if you want less salt or more cheese, pecorino romano is very salty)
1/2 T of pepper
1 T of oregano
1 T of sweet basil (can use regular basil)
1 dash of red pepper flake (more or less to taste)
1/4 cup of wine (or more if the sauce is too thick)
1 t of sweet agave syrup (or splenda, sugar, etc)
1 lb of whole wheat pasta (or white, brown rice, other pasta type) I used fusilli but use whatever.
1-2 T of pecorino romano cheese (shredded/grated, doesn't really matter how finely it's grated since it will melt)
Start boiling the water for the pasta and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Saute the beef until it is half browned, then add in the onions and the garlic. Once the meat is browned, drain most of the fat off. If you have >90/10 beef, you can skip this step. Don't push on the meat to get more fat off, because you might end up taking out some of the moisture and make the meat too dry. Add in the chopped mushrooms. After a few minutes, less than 10, you'll notice that the pan will get too dry, which is when you should add in the tomato sauce. Once it is all incorporated, add in the spices (oregano, sweet basil, salt, pepper, red pepper flake) and the agave syrup. Don't forget to cook the pasta when the water starts boiling!
After about 20 minutes of simmering (post addition of spices), stir in the pecorino romano. The pasta should be "done" after 5 minutes, rinse, and drain. Because the pasta will be baking with a slightly watery sauce, it should be less done than al dente (whatever that means.) Basically it should be chewy.
After about 10 more minutes of simmering, turn off the heat to the sauce.
In a big casserole dish (lined with aluminum foil or sprayed w/olive oil or PAM), add the pasta, then pour the sauce over the top and mix well.
Bake uncovered @ 400 degrees for 20 minutes (pull out of the oven and stir every 10 minutes or so)
Drop the temp to 350 degrees for 10 minutes (stir again)
Continue cooking at 350 until the pasta mixture is no longer "watery." A little bit of water is ok, but not more than a few little puddles here and there under the noodle mixture.
Add about 2 cups of daiya mozzarella cheese spread evenly over the top (don't mix! or mix... whatever you want.)
Continue baking at 350, checking on the meal every 5 minutes until your desired melt/browning is achieved. For example, mine was ready after 12 minutes (post adding cheese). I like to add in some fresh parsley for a topping since I had it around.
The cooking time will vary depending on the ingredients you choose (especially depending on the cheese topping). This is a very flexible dish, so use what you have around the kitchen to make it 'yours.'
<Beef + onions + garlic, browning
<Tomato sauce from the farmers market, probably about 28+14 oz
<Casserole dish this big.. I have no idea what the dimensions are.
Done and Done!