On those cold, cozy nights when only a comforting casserole will do, the last thing you want to be dealing with is a soggy pasta bake. The best thing about a baked penne or ziti is the crispy, crunchy top that gives way to a gooey inside, but you might be putting that perfect consistency in jeopardy with the kinds of vegetables you’re using.
You might not realise it, but those perfectly ripe, bursting-with-moisture-veggies that you’re tossing into your casserole are most likely the culprits when it comes to a watery bake, which is why it’s important to heed the recipe when it comes to prepping your vegetables and cooling your finished product. And if you’re freestyling your next baked dinner, here are a few tips to keep the consistency on point.
Broccoli and Cheese Casserole with Crunchy ToppingOld-school broccoli and cheese casserole is not bad. But with an update, it can be great.
Spinach and Artichokes
Watery vegetables can expel moisture while cooking, leaving your casserole soupy and unappetizing; but luckily, the fix is easier than you might think: simply swap your fresh for frozen.
According to ATK’s The New Cooking School Cookbook, frozen varieties of spinach or artichoke can make life a whole lot easier when adding them to a pasta bake, and all that needs to be done is for the veggies to be thawed and then squeezed dry with a paper towel to ensure than any excess moisture is soaked up before adding them to the dish.
For additions like eggplant, you can simply chop and roast them to ensure they’re dry enough to toss in with the rest of the ingredients before baking.
To take the raw edge off of broccoli, toss it into the water you used to boil the p[asta for no more than a minute. Just 60 seconds is all it takes to soften the vegetable and turn it bright green.
Summer Squash and Zucchini
To prepare veggies for a delicious dish like Baked Penne with Summer Squash, Tomatoes and Basil, half the squash and zucchini lengthwise and slice to a ½ inch thick, then salt and let drain them for 30 mins. Onc that's done, pat them dry on paper towels then saute before incorporating them with the rest of the dish.
Truly the most low maintenance vegetable in the lineup: simply toss in to your casserole as they are. No defrosting necessary.
Sign up for the Mediterranean Way newsletter
Bring the vibrant, healthful recipes of the Mediterranean to your kitchen.
There is one other misstep that can compromise your baked pasta’s texture: not letting it cool long enough. It can be difficult to resist what already looks like the perfect dinner, but you must heed the recipe! Waiting 10 to 15 minutes before serving allows the dish to cool and reconstitute its moisture, resulting in a firm, sliceable bake.
“I often see people cut into pasta casseroles that just came out of the oven. I know it can be hard to wait, but it’s important to follow the cooling instructions for baked pasta recipes,” Cook’s Country test cook Morgan Bolling suggests in the cookbook.