My sweet husband grew up in Wisconsin and, in our four and a half years of smooching and hanging out, he’s brought me on board the Green Bay Packers train - almost. I’ll root for them in any game unless they’re playing the Patriots, in which case this born and bred New England girl gets wicked Masshole awn yah.
The Pack is playing the Minnesota Vikings tonight (hey K!) so I figured today would be as good as any to share a recent casserole concoction I whipped up in honor of J’s team. Loosely inspired by this pasta bake, this green and gold casserole is made with - what else? - Wisconsin cheddar.
I mean, come on. Never give a sorority girl a theme if you don’t want her to run with it.
Hey, food processor? Bless you. The ingredients of this masterpiece are:
1/2 box (7 ish ounces) whole wheat farfalle (or your preferred pasta but bow ties are sexy let's be honest)
3 leeks (light green and white parts only, sliced in half moons)
1 bunch of broccoli, cut into florets (you could certainly use frozen florets FYI)
1 yellow squash, diced
3/4 lb cheese, a mix of white and yellow Wisconsin cheddar, shredded
12 ounces low fat milk
one tablespoon or so of flour
one tablespoon Dijon mustard
cayenne pepper (optional)
salt and pepper
There are two main cooking components - boiling the pasta and cooking the veggies. I did all of this in one pot, but you could separate into two if you want to save time and don’t care about that one additional pot to wash. I hate dishes so tacked 20 minutes onto overall prep time so I could do the boiling stage first. You do you.
Ok so you start with heavily salted water. I made this once without salting the water and the end result was Blandy McFlavorless. Get your Giada on and SALT. THE. GD. WATER. Aggressively. Then, bring the extremely salty water to a boil, cook your pasta until it has just a little bite left, and then add in the broccoli for maximum two minutes to the boiling water. Drain and set aside.
In the same pan (see above note if you want to use two), heat oil or butter and add the leeks. Season with salt and pepper as they start to cook. Once they start to soften, add in the flour and toss around to coat the leeks.
Slowly pour in the milk and stir. Add the Dijon mustard at this stage so it dissolves into the milk. Once the milk is incorporated, add in the cheese a bit at a time, ensuring it melts and is well incorporated into the sauce. Then, season again with salt and pepper and a shake or two of cayenne if you opt for it. I love either nutmeg or cayenne in cheese sauces, but again, you do you - it's totally option. The mustard, by the way, is not optional. Add it. It’s magical.
Add in the squash. Yes, you add it in raw. It’s sweet and tender enough to cook fully just from baking with everything else. Also add in the pasta and broccoli. Stir until everything is coated.
Turn everything into a casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes.
So pretty, isn't it? For the meat, I went Wisconsin-inspired, too. I took six bratwursts out of their casing and reshaped them into patties. Six brats turned into five patties.
I know, that's three patties. I promise you I can count. I cooked them in batches in a nonstick skillet - do not touch them! let that gorgeous brown crust appear! it appears when you do not touch them!
Oh and yes, the casserole comes out of the oven right around the time that the patties are done.
The cheese sauce is still bubbling. The broccoli smells rich and the squash smells sweet and a few farfalle edges have browned and crisped up in the oven and you do not go near the silverware drawer because you know you'll burn your mouth if you dig in at this moment.
After it cooled for five excruciatingly long minutes, I served everything up with a side of homemade horseradish pickles.
The patties were the biggest no brainer - Schaller and Weber in our neighborhood is an institution of German meats and everything they make is legendary. I could certainly have left them in their cased state but was really feeling like burgers that night. So, here's proof you can do it, if nothing else.
The casserole itself? Holy hell. The Packers won both times I've made this so that's really all that matters, right? If you like broccoli and cheddar together, this is for you. The sauce is cheesy and creamy but there are still big vegetable jewels amidst the carbs and dairy. The leeks add that oniony touch without being too strong and they kind of melt into the background, texture-wise. The bitterness of the broccoli and the sweet fresh bite of the squash and the rich cheddar is simply a match made in heaven.
Also a match made in heaven? My imaginary dinner party where I serve this masterpiece to Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and J. Three sexy football-lovin' men around my dinner table. Ahhh. A girl can dream, can't she?