Veggie-centric comfort casserole

Putting your vegetables into a bed of rich deliciousness.

Broccoli Mushroom Noodle Casserole. —Connie Berry

I was feeling homesick for Central New York over the weekend, so I pulled out my old copy of Molly Katzen’s “The New Moosewood Cookbook” in search of some veggie-dense comfort food. The earlier 1977 version of this book — and that 40-plus-year-old restaurant, Moosewood, in Ithaca, N.Y. — are groundbreakers in terms of vamping up the spectacularness of eating vegetarian. I remember having my first tofu sandwich at Moosewood about 20 years ago. (I’d like to say I enjoyed it from a child’s highchair, but that would be inaccurate.) 

Moosewood, the restaurant, is a collectively owned business made up of 19 members, and they share responsibilities and successes. The restaurant sits in a pretty unglamorous mall in downtown Ithaca, but people flock there from all over the country to try vegetarian, pescatarian, raw, and organic dishes like Butternut Carbonara, Red Bean Jambalaya, and Maple-Apple-Bourbon Shrimp. The menu changes every day, depending upon what’s available locally. Wouldn’t it be cool if they decided to move to M.V.? I digress. 

I was happy to choose one of the first options in the entrée section of the cookbook: Broccoli Mushroom Noodle Casserole. Right there, in the name of the recipe, you have two perfectly nice guilt-free veggies that go well together. As I read on, though, there were a few other ingredients, besides the pasta, that sold this one for me … eggs, cottage cheese, bread crumbs, and sour cream. I love it when I find a “vegetarian” recipe that leaves me not missing meat, fish, or chicken in any way, shape, or form. 

Because I found this recipe on a Saturday, my longtime grocery shopping day, I wrote down what I needed and headed out. I’ll admit right here that I consider sour cream so decadent that I almost felt guilty putting it in my cart — even more guilty than when I threw in a frozen pizza on top of a bag of Smartfood. 

As usual, I didn’t exactly follow the recipe to the letter. For some reason I just have to monkey with what’s written. I like to think it’s a sort of rebellious streak. There were a few optional additions: 3 eggs, beaten; ¼ cup dry white wine, and 1 cup (packed) grated medium or sharp Cheddar. I dropped the wine, but I definitely sprinkled a cup of cheese on top, and I did go with the three beaten eggs. I also used gluten-free pasta, because I’ve got a gluten-sensitive son in the house. It’s safe to say that it was a hit with everyone. I’ll share the recipe with you, and feel free to put your own twist on it.

Broccoli Mushroom Noodle Casserole

(Yield: about 6 servings)

1 1-lb. (or 12-oz.) package wide, flat egg noodles
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
2 cups chopped onion
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 large bunch fresh broccoli, chopped
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced or chopped
½ tsp. salt (or more, to taste)
Lots of fresh black pepper
Optional: ¼ cup dry white wine
Optional: 3 eggs, beaten
3 cups (1½ lbs.) cottage cheese (may be low-fat)
1 cup sour cream (may be low-fat) or buttermilk
1½ cups fine bread crumbs and/or wheat germ
Optional: 1 cup (packed) grated medium or sharp Cheddar

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter or oil a 9- x 13-inch baking pan.

Cook the noodles in plenty of boiling water until about half-done. Drain and rinse under cold water. Drain again and set aside.

Melt the butter or margarine in a large skillet, and add onions and garlic. Sauté for about five minutes over medium heat, then add broccoli, mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the broccoli is bright green and just tender. Remove from heat and possibly add optional white wine.

In a large bowl, beat together optional eggs (or not) with cottage cheese and sour cream or buttermilk. Add noodles, sautéed vegetables, and 1 cup of the bread crumbs. Mix well.

Spread into the prepared pan, and top with remaining bread crumbs and, if desired, grated cheese. Bake covered for 30 minutes; uncovered for 15 minutes more.