As I take my daily ride into the country, the signs of Fall are everywhere. The corn stalks stand drying in the fields their single ears of seed corn still attached. they’ll stay there for a few more weeks until the process is complete.Other stalks face another fate. Gathered and bound to adorn farm stands in every incarnation imaginable, decking their yards for Fall. Hay bales not being used for feed find their way into the autumn landscape. They can become a climbing structure waiting for children to cast allergies to the wind and scale them with reckless abandon. Others are transformed with a few props into (slightly tacky) symbols of the season.
The air has that Fall scent. It’s an almost imperceptible hint of dried leaves and crisp air that has just a touch of chill to it. There are a those rogue overachiever trees that are displaying their autumn glory more than a few weeks early, The touches of red and orange a gift of their perfect proximity to the sun.
This is casserole weather. The temperature is cool enough to turn off the air conditioning and open the windows and using the oven is once again a pleasant proposition. Mama D, always a fan of the one dish meal, has popped more than a few things in the oven of late. Pork loins and chicken breasts have roasted to perfection within the oven walls, but the real treat is when an eclectic group of ingredients come together in one pan of love.
The most recent creation was a healthier twist on Macaroni and Cheese. Pasta was there in the form of Multi-Grain Penne. Extra sharp Cheddar Cheese created a creamy sauce. There was even a little bacon goodness going on. This casserole also featured a healthy dose of cauliflower, red onion, and a handful of golden grape tomatoes.
Combining these ingredients was easy, if a little time consuming, but completely worth it. I chopped up 3 cups worth of cauliflower (a little more than 1/2 a large head). I cooked the pasta in the usual manner and added the cauliflower to the pot a couple of minutes before the pasta was cooked. They resided together in a rectangular casserole dish. I broiled the tomatoes and cooked the bacon and added them to the dish. While I drained most of the bacon drippings from the pan, I kept just a little to saute the onions which became the base for my cheese sauce. Cheese sauce needs cheese and I chose an extra sharp cheddar. The grab your taste buds kick allowed me to use less saving some fat and calories.I upped the flavor of the sauce with Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, and mustard. Some garden thyme added a little sumpin’ as well.
Every good casserole needs a crunchy crumb topping and so did mine. Panko crumbs with a little garlic powder and paprika was the crowning touch.It baked in the oven mostly covered with foil, but (foil) topless for a bit to create a crunchy golden crust. The result was a tasty yet somewhat healthy dish. The bacon could be eliminated to make it a Meatless Monday delight. Any cut pasta would work from elbows to shells to rotini. Just cut the cauliflower to a size that is similar to the pasta. This will generously serve four and the leftovers are pretty tasty as well.
Autumn brings changes in the weather and often the foods we eat. This year fall also holds many personal changes for us. Like a change of season…a change of lifestyle can be a welcome challenge. Embrace it. Love, Mama D