Sickness. A meal for a shut in. A welcome home meal after a long absence. Beareavement. A new baby. A new neighbor. A casserole serves all needs. With the ease of the 9″ X 13″ pan, covered in foil with the reheating/cooking instructions written right on top, the casserole has been delivered to grateful recipients for generations. Think back to the times you have been the lucky recipient of such meals. You probably don’t remember the meals as much as the love and support nourishing you or your family through your time of need.
Casseroles are a blessing for the giver as much as the recipient. When one wants to help and doesn’t know how, they are a small way the giver can feel useful. Every recipient is different. Some prefer the meal left at the door and want privacy. Others welcome time spent with the bearer to share their joy or sorrow. When preparing a meal consider food allergies, number of people to feed, ability to freeze the meal if needed and provide a container that doesn’t need to be returned, as well as heating instructions. With the popularity of care calendars, a lot of information is available making it even easier to prepare a meal tailored to the recipients’ needs. Nice additions can be a plant or flowers, a bottle of wine, paper goods and a batch of cookies or sweets.
At a recent Sting concert in Philadelphia, I was moved to tears by a ballad Sting performed solo with an acoustic guitar, as an encore, called the Empty Chair. Sting explained he had been asked to write a song for a documentary film on the life of James Foley, the US journalist brutally killed by ISIS and how he had struggled to compose the lyrics. He visualize the forever empty place at Foley’s family table and was finally able to write this poignant song. You can hear Sting sing it live at the Bataclan in Paris here. I shared this song with friends who were mourning the tragic loss of a child recently, unsure if it would be too painful or raw for them to listen to. These friends, who had had dozens of casseroles delivered to them, responded that in spite of always having an empty chair, their table had never been so crowded by the love and support of the community. The casseroles had sustained them in their darkest hour.
Whatever their reason, casseroles say “I am thinking of you”, “I am here for you”, “I share your burden or joy”. The casserole I am sharing today is basically a baked pasta in a rich cheesy béchamel sauce with decadent crème fraîche that is layered in a flavorful ground turkey-red sauce with red wine, spinach, fresh herbs and a bit of heat from red pepper flakes. Hearthy and flavorful, it is comfort food at its best. Once assembled, it can simply be reheated. Or it can be frozen and enjoyed later. This is such a great dish you might want to make 2: one for the family in need and one to keep!
Baked Pasta with Ground Turkey and Spinach
- 1 lb of pasta such as ziti, gemelli or cellentani
- salted water for boiling pasta
- 1 lb of ground turkey
- 1 T olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 T fresh basil leaves, chopped
- 2 T fresh oregano leaves
- 1 T hot pepper flakers
- 1/4 cup dry red wine, optional
- 3-14oz cans of diced tomatoes and their juice
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 T butter
- 2 T flour
- 1 pint of heavy cream
- 1 cup of crème fraîche or sour cream
- 1 egg
- 1 cup grated parmesan, divided
- 1 cup ricotta
- 5 onces of baby spinach
- Cook pasta in boiling water, drain and reserve.
- To make the meat sauce: In a large pot, heat the oil. Brown the turkey and onion together until the onion is translucent and the meat is no longer pink. Use a spatula to break the meat up as it cooks. Add the red wine and cook for a few minutes. Throw in the basil, oregano, hot pepper flakes and tomatoes. Bring to a boil then simmer for 30 minutes to thicken the sauce. When the sauce is done, and just before assembly toss in the spinach and cook only to wilt it, a few minutes.
- To make the cheesy béchamel: In a small pot, melt the butter on low heat. Add the flour to make a roux. Slowly add the cream and whisk constantly until the sauce is thickened. To this add the crème fraîche, ricotta, egg, salt and pepper and half of the parmesan. Toss the pasta in the cheese sauce.
- Assembly: Butter or spray the sides of an 11 X 13″ pan. Spread half of the meat sauce in the bottom. Top with the cheesy pasta. Spread the rest of the meat sauce on top and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan.
- Bake at 400 F in the middle of the oven, uncovered, for 20 minutes if baking right after assembly. If you are baking it after it has been chilled, increase baking time to 40-50 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.
What is your go-to casserole dish? Is there someone who could use a home cooked meal? Spread the love.