Comforting casserole season is now open! Ooey, gooey, cheesy warmth that makes you smile before you even take your first bite. Steaming hot, and chock-full of goodies to take the chill out of the toes and the frost off the nose! And boy did it turn chilly! Br-r-r-r-r!!!! Baby it’s cold outside this morning! I didn’t even want to climb out from under the pillowy, warm duvet cover, but my cat was head-butting me and climbing all over us wanting his breakfast – – now. Right. NOW. So momma had to crawl out of her warm cocoon of covers and feed the “starving” furlet before all hell broke loose. Like Dolly Parton said in “9 to 5”, “If I’m not filling one tank, I’m filling another!” But I do like to keep everyone happy! And this casserole always makes everyone who eats it very happy campers!
This is a wonderful one to make for casual parties, too, instead of ordering a stack of pizzas. You can put whatever you wish for in it, and as much or little as you’d like, too. You never get cheated on quality or quantity and you can make it low-fat, healthy, and even vegetarian-friendly if preferred. There are plenty of low-fat cheeses; turkey, black bean and veggie-based meats, and whole wheat pastas to choose from now that are really pretty good. And don’t forget to sneak in those veggies! Mushrooms, bell peppers of all colors, thin tomato and zucchini slices, asparagus tips, onions, chives, shallots, oven-roasted broccoli and cauliflower slices, chopped spinach or kale, roasted garlic, sugar snap or snow peas, corn, jalapeños, diced green chilies, black beans, roasted eggplant and even black-eyed peas and sauerkraut go well in this! Yes, sauerkraut! VERY popular in the midwest! It adds a slight crunch and actually gets a bit sweet!
If you want to go whole-hog wild, you can greatly vary and improve this by adding meats such as salami, prosciutto, cappicola, serrano or honey-cured ham, roast beef, grilled steak, pulled pork, buffalo, venison, bacon, duck, meatballs, quail, chicken, pheasant, chorizo or turkey!
And cheeses?! Don’t even get me started! Ok, I’ll start anyways! Always here to offer help and share ideas! Besides the obvious mozzarella, provolone, cheddar, co-jack, romano and parmesan, there are so many other wonderful cheeses out there to try and enjoy! Such as feta, blue and roquefort, goat cheese, gorgonzola, brie, havarti, muenster, swiss or gouda, ricotta, fontina, queso blanco or fresco, or even a little pinch or two of sharp asiago to add a little punch!
And don’t forget the poor misunderstood anchovies! Those ugly li’l buggers need some lovin’, too! Along with steamed oysters, shrimp, clams, smoked salmon, grilled tuna, lobster and crab!
You can add a touch of sweetness if that makes the party in your mouth rock! Fresh pineapple is awesome in pizza-style casseroles. Depending on what type of sauce and cheese you choose, dried fruits and berries such as blueberries, strawberries, cranberries (“craisins”), cherries, dates, golden raisins, and chopped apricots add texture and surprise, as well!
Can’t handle the acidity of a red sauce? Swap it out for a nice mild and creamy alfredo instead! You can even kick that up a notch by mixing it with a little pesto, or anchovy paste, or some fresh chopped herbs such as rosemary, marjoram, oregano or basil! Absolutely incredible!
For extra fun, why not add a little crunch? Finely shredded cabbage and carrots, lettuce, peppery arugula or alfalfa sprouts are wonderful piled on top and sprinkled with a little garlic salt and pepper! Or go even further and add some nuts! Coarse chopped walnuts and pecans, peanuts and cashews, almonds, pine nuts or pistachios. Or sprinkle on some of those roasted pumpkin seeds you have left over. Very tasty on top of a pizza!
So I hope I’ve gotten your creative juices flowing and have inspired you to head out to the kitchen and create a comforting casserole chock-full of your favorite goodies! For now, I’m posting my traditional recipe for you as a base and basic guide for you to play with. I hope that you’ve found this post helpful and would very much enjoy hearing about what creative casserole you’ve come up with! I’ll be sharing several myself throughout the season, too! But this one is a nice place to start. Enjoy all, and don’t forget to grab your coat and hat! 🙂
ROTINI PIZZA CASSEROLE with SAUSAGE, PEPPERONI, MUSHROOMS & BLACK OLIVES
half of a one lb. box rotini pasta (“spirals”), about 3 cups uncooked
1 lb. sweet, hot or mild ground italian sausage, cooked and drained
1 (8 oz.) carton fresh sliced mushrooms
1 small onion, chopped
1 small green bell pepper, diced, optional (*I love it, the hubs not so much!)
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried basil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp. coarse ground pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
32 oz. jar (or two smaller jars) favorite spaghetti sauce, can sub Alfredo sauce
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 (4 oz.) can premium sliced ripe black olives, drained well, or as desired
24 slices pepperoni
1 lb. shredded mozzarella
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. basil powder
1 Tbl. fresh minced parsley for garnish, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In large deep frying pan, sauté sausage, and next 8 ingredients, breaking up sausage into bite-sized pieces as you go, until no longer pink. Drain grease. Stir in sauce, parmesan cheese, olives and half of the pepperoni slices.
While meat and veggies are cooking, heat pot of water to boiling and cook noodles according to package directions using the shortest time allotted. Drain and return pasta to the pot.
Add meat and veggie sauce to pasta in pot folding gently until combined.
Pour and spread mixture into a lightly sprayed, large, deep casserole dish (a 13×9 or larger), or small roasting pan. (*Or you can use two smaller baking dishes.)
Top evenly with mozzarella. Top with rest of pepperoni slices. Sprinkle top evenly with garlic salt, oregano and basil powder.
Bake in pre-heated oven for 20-30 minutes until heated through, cheese is melted and done to desired brownness, and casserole is bubbly. Serve hot with tossed salad and garlic bread if desired.