Recipe of the Week: Cheesy Beef and Pasta Casserole

Now I'm not sure why, but this week I just felt like finding something warm and comforting to share with you. And along comes this great casserole recipe with pasta, beef, onions, garlic, marinara, cheese. What's more comforting and warm than that, right? But as I like to do I bookmarked it and kept looking around and reading. And I kept coming back to this warm, simple recipe. Mmmm pasta. Mmmm onions. Mmmm garlic. Mmmm cheese. Mmmm basil. Obviously I was hooked (and I think you'll be also).

So, I figured, why resist? Let's make Cheesy Beef and Pasta Casserole from this week's Recipe of the Week.

The other thing I should point out is that RecipeGirl took this a step further and made this recipe just a little bit healthier by adding a whole large zucchini into the recipe, uses whole-wheat penne pasta and a low-fat marinara. Still a little carb-y, but not nearly what it could be. Nice!

A side note: If you are a vegetarian (as I am) in my opinion you could easily trade the ground beef for the veggie crumbles from Boca, MOrningstar Farms, or Quorn and I bet no one would know. And you'll save some fat and pump this recipe up a little higher on the healthy scale.

This is a relatively simple, straightforward recipe. After chopping your onions, zucchini, and garlic you cook them in the skillet (about 5 minutes) then remove them from the skillet. In the same skillet, you brown and drain the ground beef (about 8-10 minutes). Then add in the veggies, the pasta, and the marinara. After mixing it all to combine it, simply spoon it all into the casserole dish, sprinkle it with cheese, and it's off to the oven to bake (about 20-25 minutes). Pair it with a nice salad and some garlic bread and BOOM dinner's done!

Could this be a weeknight dinner? It sure could. I'd give this one 45 minutes to one hour start to finish (and almost half of that is baking time). Not bad at all. And if you do the veggie chopping in advance (say earlier in the day or even chopping extra when you're making another dish). And/or if you want to multitask, cook the pasta while you are chopping and cooking the veggies. And besides all that, this recipe only uses three pieces of cookware - a pasta pot,  a casserole dish, and a large skillet. Not a million pots and pans to clean up. Yay!

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Just as an aside, are you familiar with the blog? If not, be sure to check it out. It's one of my favorite sites for great recipes (over 2,700!). Lori Lange ("a former elementary school teacher who traded the classroom for the kitchen") runs the site. Since she started in 2006 she's become a full-time recipe creator, cookbook writer, and more. You can read more about her here on her About page.

Like I said, this week I was looking around for a nice, warm, simple dish that could be just perfect for a cold winter weeknight. So, if you're looking for a bit of comfort food - with a little healthy thrown in - I say, give this one a try. You won't be sorry!