Roast Pumpkin, Pesto and Bocconcini Pasta Bake

Every now and then when I get completely uninspired with what to cook, I end up making a pasta bake of some sort with whatever we have in the fridge. This unplanned meal actually turned out to be quite delicious, hence while I’m sharing it. I have made this pasta bake using the remaining pasta we had in the pantry, however, my recommended pasta type to use would be spirals as they will ‘mop up’ more of the pesto.

A pasta bake is a great meal that can be prepared in advance and the baking completed when ready to eat, or even fully cooked and then reheated when needed. The bonus nutritional benefit with a pasta bake is the higher level of resistant starch, compared with a usual pasta meal. Resistant starch is a type of fibre that resists digestion, passing to the large bowel, largely digested, and feeds the ‘good’ bacteria, or probiotics, that reside in the large bowel. These probiotics, which are trillions of bacteria, make up the microbiome. When fed well, these bacteria thrive and produce short chain fatty acids, acetate, butyrate and propionate, which regulate the permeability of the intestinal wall, preventing molecules, such as endotoxins, passing this barrier to where they should not be. This process plays a role in helping to control inflammation within the body.

Pasta bake prior to cooking

You may ask why I have bothered pre-cooking the pumpkin in this dish when a pasta bake needs to cook for long enough to cook the pasta? Well, pumpkin, when roasted, gives a delicious caramelised flavour, which disperses throughout the whole dish. If you are short on time, you can omit the roasting of the pumpkin, but trust me, it’s better when roasted.

If you wish, this could be made into a simple pasta dish by skipping the baking step and cooking the pasta until al dente during the boiling process. If you choose to cook this dish in this way, I would recommend serving with a good handful of fresh rocket leaves.

Most meals that contain pasta are a hit in our household, and considering the kids often turn their noses up at pumpkin, the fact that they enjoyed this meal made me happy.

Enjoy xx

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups pumpkin, chopped into 1-2cm cubes
  • 1 tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups of pasta – spirals will work well
  • 3/4 cup of pesto
  • 1 cup broccoli florets
  • 150g baby bocconcini
  • 1 cup reserved pasta water

Pesto:

  • 1 bunch basil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup of pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 tbs grated parmesan cheese
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C and line a tray with baking paper.
  2. Place pumpkin cubes into a bowl and add olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place onto baking tray and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  3. Make pesto by placing all the ingredients into a food processor and blitz until combined. Set aside.
  4. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil. Once boiling, add the pasta and cook for 2 minutes less than what the packet says – the pasta will cook more in the oven and you don’t want the pasta overcooked. Add the broccoli florets for the final 2 minutes of pasta cooking.
  5. Once cooked, drain the pasta and broccoli, making sure you reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.
  6. Place the cooked pasta and broccoli into a large bowl, and add the roast pumpkin.
  7. Mix the reserved pasta water and pesto together and pour over the pasta mixture. Gently toss to combine.
  8. Place pasta mixture into baking dish and top with baby bocconcini and sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese, if you with and bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and the cheese is nicely melted.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

 

Our family loves pasta, especially the kids. Whenever those carbohydrate loaded  shapes hit their plate (regardless of shape), it’s guaranteed a smooth and enjoyable meal for all – as long as I meet the requests of spaghetti being cut up or long! And to be sure, I always ask about 5 times, until I get the response “Mum, I said, I want it long”!!!

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This recipe is inspired by Jamie Oliver’s meatball pasta. I have just added a few things and tweaked it slightly. If you are time poor, or have to work and need a quick meal to reheat for the family, this is a great one and like any pasta sauce, lasagna type meal, it is always better the next day. The last time we had this, I made the sauce on a Tuesday night to have for dinner on Wednesday, and it was SO much better than when I make and eat it on the same day.

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Basil in this recipe is a great addition, but if you don’t have it, it’s still pretty delicious without it. I normally use spaghetti, but if you have little kids and they prefer macaroni or other shaped pastas, they are just as easily substituted.

The meatballs themselves can be made in advance and refrigerated, prior to cooking, until needed.

Ingredients:

Serves 4

Meatballs

  • 400 lean beef mince
  • 1 tbs Dijon mustard
  • 2 sprig rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1 tbs dried oregano
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/3 cup multigrain breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbs olive oil

Sauce

  • 1 brown onion, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 medium sized eggplant, cut into 1-2 cm cubes
  • 1 long red chilli
  • 2 x 400g tins diced tomatoes
  • 1 big handful of basil leaves, roughly torn
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 300g spaghetti

Method:

  1. Place the diced eggplant into a colander and season generously with salt and set aside for ~15 minutes. This will allow the eggplant to sweat, which removes some of the bitterness.
  2. To make the meatballs, place all ingredients, except the oil into a medium sized bowl.
  3. Using your hands, mix the mixture thoroughly, until well combined. If the mixture is too wet, add some more breadcrumbs.
  4. Shape the meatballs by rolling heaped teaspoons of the mixture into balls and place onto a plate. Once all meatballs are made, drizzle with olive oil and shake to coat.
  5. Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add the meatballs and cook for 6-7 minutes, turning regularly to ensure they are cooked. Remove from frypan when cooked.
  6. Wipe the frypan clean and heat 1 tbs oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook for ~7-8 minutes or until translucent.
  7. Add garlic, chilli and eggplant and cook for a further 1-2 minutes.
  8. Add tomatoes and 1 handful of chopped basil and bring to the boil.
  9. Turn heat down to a simmer and add meatballs. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until sauce is reduced slightly. Turn off the heat.
  10. To make the pasta, fill a large pot with water, add some salt and bring to the boil. Once boiling, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain.
  11. To serve, divide the pasta among four bowls, top with meatballs and grated parmesan cheese and some torn basil leaves.