The week of baking dish love

An admission: I am weirdly fond of my large baking dish. It hasn’t yet threatened the stability of my marriage, but to put it in context, that simple stoneware Denby dish is one of the few things I’d grab on my way out of the burning house.

While you ponder what those other items on the burning-house list could be, I’ll try to explain this adoration. It’s not really about the physical form: I feel pretty “meh” about the pastel cream and green color of mine. And while the weight of a stoneware baking dish is pleasingly substantial, the same could be said for my slow cooker, cast-iron skillet, and mortar-and-pestle, all of which I appreciate but don’t hug regularly. It’s also not about efficiency. A big baking dish seems like a “throw everything in without sullying another pan” kind of tool, but most of the recipes I make with mine involve up-front work on the stove.

This seems mundane, but my affinity boils down to the dish’s versatility and variety. With this one tool, I can make stratas for brunch, pasta bake that wins accolades from both grownups and toddlers, cakes, meats, vegetables, main dishes, side dishes… ok, we get the point. I’ll even admit that I push its versatility by reworking recipes intended for use in other bakeware. Case in point: the nutty rice casserole recipe which calls for a Dutch oven, but which I swear is better in my baking dish (even though it takes twice as long).

Nutty rice casserole

And when I get starry-eyed over variety, it’s all about the endless possible combinations of tasty, healthy foods. Because, really, no one’s using a big, stoneware baking dish to cook just a couple ingredients (you may as well make a bowl of cereal and call it a day). Instead, I hear a call to fill it with interesting mixes of whole grains, legumes, and nuts. Something about that baking dish looks like airport runway lighting to me, directing the touchdown B-vitamin-packed quinoa and phytochemical-rich kale. I see that cavernous interior and feel spurred to find new ways to pack nutrient-dense vegetables into pasta bake.

Turkey and vegetable pasta bake

So if this little love letter has persuaded you to strike up an affair with your own baking dish, let me enable you crazy kids with a (short) week’s worth of recipes:

  • Vegetable and turkey pasta bake (full recipe follows)
  • Nutty rice casserole (full recipe follows)
  • Baked shrimp with feta, orzo and tomato, from Epicurious (here)
  • Asparagus, portabello, and goat cheese strata, from Whole Foods (here)
  • Baked quinoa with kale, sage and gruyere, from Seasoned To Taste (here)

A quick tangent about what I do not love: losing a bunch of the photos I took of the rice casserole. Not sure how the gremlins got to the SD card, but I have far fewer close-ups of the casserole process than I would like. Luckily, the photos of my kitchen helper were unscathed.

Nutty rice casserole (text file here)

This is adapted from the original recipe in Kiwi Magazine (here) – it was good, but I tweaked spices, added orange juice, and included raisins to make it less bland. I also prefer to use my beloved baking dish instead of a proper Dutch oven as instructed in the original.

If you’d like it less sweet, replace some or all of the orange juice with vegetable broth. Want more sweetness? Drizzle honey over the top of each serving.

(6 servings, approx. 330 calories each)

1 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut diced

1 small onion, finely diced

1.5 cups brown basmati rice, rinsed under cold water and drained

3 cups low-sodium vegetable broth

1 cup orange juice

1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 Tbs honey

1 tsp ground cinnamon

¼ tsp nutmeg

¼ tsp salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

½ cup sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Heat oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Add carrots and onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, about 6-7 minutes. Add rice and stir until combined with vegetables and oil.

Add broth, orange juice, chickpeas, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Increase heat and bring liquid to a simmer.

Pour contents of the pan into a large baking dish. Cover tightly with foil and place in oven. Bake for 40 minutes covered; stir once and continue cooking, uncovered, for 20 minutes or until liquid is absorbed and rice is tender.

Top with almonds and serve.

Vegetable and turkey pasta bake (text file here)

This recipe is wonderfully flexible. The zucchini and mushrooms are my favorites, but many other veggies would be great (bell peppers, eggplant, broccoli, etc). Try substituting soy-based crumbles for the turkey as a vegetarian version. The only must-have is the Worcestershire sauce, which brings some indefinable magic to the mix.

This is great served with little grated romano or parmesan cheese on top.

(6-8 servings, approx. 500/375 calories each)

16 oz whole wheat pasta (rotini, ziti or penne work best)

1 tsp olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 medium onion, diced

1 lb ground turkey breast

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dried parsley

1 tsp dried basil

1-2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce

1.5 c diced mushrooms

1 zucchini, diced

2 Tbs capers

8 oz spinach

8 oz shredded mozzarella

25 oz jar of pasta sauce or diced tomatoes
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Put a large pot of water on high heat, and cook the pasta as the package directs. If it finishes before the vegetable and turkey mixture, add a touch of olive oil after straining to prevent clumping and let it hang out in the pot.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and onion, and cook for 3-4 minutes until the onions are just softening. Add the turkey breast, parsley, oregano, basil and Worcestershire sauce. Cook for 5-6 minutes, using a spatula to break up the turkey into small pieces and distribute the spices throughout.

When the turkey is just cooked through – no longer pink inside, but not yet getting crispy outside – add the mushrooms and zucchini to the pan. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes. Add the spinach and cook for another 1-2 minutes, until the spinach has just wilted. Toss in the capers and remove from heat.

In a large baking dish, add half the pasta in an even layer, then half the vegetable-turkey mixture, then half the tomatoes or pasta sauce, and top it off with half the mozzarella. Repeat with layers of the remaining pasta, vegetable-turkey mix, tomatoes/sauce, and the cheese.

Bake in the oven, uncovered, for 40 minutes.

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