Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Comfort Casseroles: Bacon and Spicy Sausage Casserole with Creamy Cashew Pesto!

Bacon and Spicy Sausage Casserole with Creamy Cashew Pesto
I have a rule about cravings:  OBEY.  So many times I have been carving something (mostly sugar), and I'll try so hard to ignore it.  I'll substitute with something less fattening, then something that's just a little less caloric, then something that's close, but not quite what I want.  THEN, I'll finally eat what I was craving, and it finally goes away.  Then the guilt sets in.  If I had just eaten what I was craving in the first place, the entire week of additional substitutions could have been eliminated.  So from now on, when I crave a dish, I make it.  I eat a little bit, make my neighbors or my friends VERY happy with the leftovers, and then I can move on with my life.  Needless to day, this week I'm craving a creamy, cheesy, casserole.  So I made one.

Baby Bodhi enjoying his casserole
This is a great dish for a rainy day, or any time that "comfort food" sounds good to the tummy.  Be sure to start with your FAVORITE Spicy Italian Sausage.  Its flavor is going to carry the dish, so be sure its full of your favorite little goodies.  I love the taste if fennel in my sausage, so I make sure the sausage I choose is full of it!  For the pesto, I LOVE using cashews instead of pine nuts for several reasons: 1) They cost about half as much as pine nuts; 2) I think they have a richer, butterier flavor; 3) their sweetness balances the saltiness of the bacon and sausage in the dish.

The whole thing can be done in just about an hour, so its a great crowd pleaser when you don't have an entire day to cook.  Serve it with garlic bread and white wine, and you've got some really happy people!  Baby Bodhi made this one disappear from his plate in about 5 minutes!

Bacon and Spicy Sausage Casserole with Creamy Cashew Pesto

Prep Time: 15 minutes / Cook Time: 45 minutes / Servings: 6-8

Pesto Ingredients:
  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves
  • 3/4 cup fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup toasted, unsalted cashew pieces
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • 1 lemon, juiced and zested
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a food processor, combine all ingredients except for the olive oil.   
  2. Pulse until combined, mix with a spatula, and mix again on high speed for about 10 seconds.  Drizzle in the olive oil and mix for about 1 minute until smooth and creamy.  Set aside.
Bechamel Sauce Ingredients:
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 tbsp. flour
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a large saucepan, melt the butter and whisk in the flour on medium heat.  Continue to whisk for about 1 minute until a thick roux is formed.  
  2. Add the milk, cream, bay leaf, pumpkin pie spice and season with salt and pepper.  Continue to whisk on medium heat for about 5 minutes, until sauce thickens.  
  3. Remove from heat and place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on top of the sauce to prevent a skin from forming.  Set aside.
Bacon and Spicy Sausage Casserole with Creamy Cashew Pesto

Casserole Ingredients:
  • 16 oz. Penne noodles
  • 1 lb. spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 8 oz. sliced Crimini mushrooms
  • 8 oz. thick, Applewood smoked bacon, chopped
  • 2 cups shredded four-cheese Italian blend
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • Bechamel Sauce (from recipe above)
  • Pesto Sauce (from recipe above)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Fill a large pot with 4 quarts of heavily salted water.  Bring to a boil and add the penne.  Par boil for about 4 minutes.  Drain the noodles and set aside.  Reserve the large pot to stir and combine the casserole when ready.
  3. Heat a large skillet on medium heat.  Add the bacon and cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until the bacon is browned and crispy.  Drain the bacon from the pan with a slotted spoon and place the bacon in a bowl that's been lined with a paper towel.  Reserve the bacon drippings.
  4. Add the sausage, scallions and mushrooms to the hot skillet with the bacon drippings (oh yeah!).  Cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally for about 10 minutes, until sausage is browned and cooked through and all the liquid is cooked off from the mushrooms. Remove from the heat and drain the mixture from the drippings with a slotted spoon.  Add it to the bowl with the bacon and set aside.
  5. Using the large, empty pot from the penne, combine the sausage and mushroom mixture, the bacon, pesto, and bechamel sauce.  Stir with a large spoon.  Add the penne back in and stir in 1 1/2 cups of the shredded cheese and 1 cup of whole milk.  Stir until all ingredients are combined.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and mix until combined.
  6. Transfer the contents of the pot to a large casserole dish, top with the remaining 1/2 cup of shredded cheese and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, until the cheese is slightly browned and bubbly.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.
Bacon and Spicy Sausage Casserole
with Creamy Cashew Pesto

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