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Baked Penne with Summer Squash, Tomatoes, and Basil

August 4, 2011

Today I am sharing yet another delicious way to use the overabundance of zucchini and summer squash in your garden! This recipe, adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated Best Cover and Bake cookbook, is one of our favorite summertime casseroles. Although the original recipe calls for 1.5 cups (!) of heavy cream, I substitute 1 cup of milk for 1 cup of the cream and it turns out fine. I find that most cookbooks that specialize in casserole recipes are very heavy-handed with the full-fat dairy and I’m not sure why cookbook authors think that’s necessary. Of course, all that cream and cheese does taste good, but it seems far too dense for everyday cooking, especially a casserole such as this one that is made with summer vegetables. Summer cooking is generally lighter and should highlight the flavors and textures of fresh-picked vegetables, not mask flavors with lots of heavy ingredients.

I like the multiple colors that come from using both zucchini and yellow squash in this recipe, but if you only have one or the other, feel free to substitute. To speed things up, you can use 3/4 cup plain dried breadcrumbs in place of making fresh: mix the dried breadcrumbs with the melted butter and sprinkle on the top before baking. (I usually have a large quantity of fresh breadcrumbs in the freezer because I prefer the texture of fresh in most recipes, so that’s another option.)

Penne vegetable casserole

Serves  6 to 8

Ingredients

Topping

  • 4  slices white sandwich bread, torn into quarters
  • 2  tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Filling

  • 1  pound zucchini, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 1  pound yellow squash, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • Kosher salt
  • 3/4  pound penne pasta
  • 4  tablespoons olive oil
  • 6  medium shallots, minced (about 1 cup)
  • 4  medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2  cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2  cups low-sodium chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 1  cup milk
  • 1/2  cup heavy cream
  • 2  ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 3/4  cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4  cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1  pint cherry tomatoes, quartered

Directions

  1. For the topping: Process the bread and butter in a food processor fitted with a steel blade until coarsely ground, about six 1-second pulses; set aside.
  2. For the filling: Adjust an oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the zucchini and yellow squash with 2 tablespoons kosher salt and place in a large colander in sink to drain, about 30 minutes.
  3. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Stir in 2 tablespoons kosher salt and the pasta; cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain the pasta, return it to the pot, and toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil; set aside.
  4. Spread the salted squash evenly over a double layer of paper towels and pat dry with additional paper towels, wiping off any residual salt. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until just smoking. Add half the squash and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and slightly charred, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the cooked squash to the pot with the pasta. Add 1 more tablespoon oil to the skillet and and return to high heat until smoking; brown the remaining squash and transfer to the pot with the pasta.
  5. Wipe the skillet clean with a wad of paper towels. Add the remaining tablespoon oil and return to medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly, until golden, about 1 minutes. Slowly whisk in the broth, milk, and cream; bring to a simmer and cook, whisking often, until lightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan, basil, and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Add the sauce and tomatoes to the pot with the pasta and squash; stir gently to combine. Pour the pasta into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (or a shallow casserole dish of similar size) and sprinkle with the breadcrumb topping. Bake until the casserole is bubbling and the crumbs are lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

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