Vegetarian Dinners: Skip the Meat, Keep the Flavor

Internet sensation pasta. Photos by Keri White

These days, there is a lot of momentum around vegetarian eating. Whether you are going fully plant based/vegan or just popping a “meatless Monday” into the calendar every so often, the options for vegetable-centric menus are growing stronger every day.

I also find in the wake of Passover, with its delicious array of hearty dishes like matzah ball soup, brisket, lamb, roast chicken and matzah brei, a few vegetarian meals are kind of what the doctor ordered to level us back out.

These two dishes are short on effort and long on flavor — my favorite type of recipe!

Some of you may recall a few months back when the baked feta and tomato sauce pasta recipe practically caused a feta shortage when it blasted around the world via TikTok. At the time, I sneered at the source, but couldn’t shake the notion that the recipe sounded pretty darned delicious, not to mention low maintenance. I decided to give it a whirl and was very glad I did.

The second recipe was an attempt to use surplus roasted butternut squash left over from a previous dinner. Its sweetness delivered a wonderful contrast with the spice of the salsa, but really, any cooked vegetable would work here — greens, sweet potatoes, carrots, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, beans, zucchini, eggplant — or a blend thereof.

Internet Sensation Pasta
Serves 4

Make this when you find cherry or grape tomatoes on special at the store, or slightly past their prime in your kitchen.

2 pints cherry or
grape tomatoes
½ cup olive oil, divided
2 generous pinches
kosher salt
Sprinkle of red pepper flakes, to taste
1 8-ounce block of feta, patted dry
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 pound pasta — I used spaghetti, but any shape is fine
1 small handful basil leaves, coarsely chopped

Heat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the tomatoes in a baking dish with the salt, pepper flakes and ⅓ cup olive oil. Toss well. Place the feta in the center of the tomatoes and drizzle them with the remaining oil. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the tomatoes are starting to char and burst, and the feta is brown at the edges.

When the tomato mixture is almost done, cook the pasta in generously salted water for 1 minute less than the package directs for al dente. While the pasta cooks, remove the pan from the oven, add the garlic and stir. Reserve ½ cup of the cooking water, and drain the pasta thoroughly.

Pour the pasta into a baking dish with the sauce and toss well. Add the basil leaves, continue tossing and, if needed to move the sauce around and loosen it, add small amounts of pasta water until the desired texture is achieved. Serve immediately.

Mexican lasagna with butternut squash

Mexican Lasagna with Butternut Squash
Serves 4

This can be made days ahead and stored in the fridge or frozen for several months.
You can use any type of salsa you like — I opted for a spicy salsa roja, which I mixed with canned diced tomatoes both to stretch the quantity and to reduce some of the heat. Green tomatillo salsa would be wonderful with this. Serve the casserole with sliced avocados spritzed with lime juice.

1 package corn tortillas
1½ cups salsa
2 cups grated cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
3 cups cooked butternut squash, mashed or cut
in small pieces
1 small bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped,
for garnish

Heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

In a 2-quart casserole dish or Pyrex, spoon a thin layer of salsa on the bottom and spread to coat. Place a single layer of corn tortillas in the pan; tear them to fit, as needed. Spoon a layer of butternut squash, a layer of salsa and a layer of cheese, then another layer of corn tortillas into the dish. Press lightly.

Repeat this process until all ingredients are used up. Finish with a layer of corn tortillas sprinkled with salsa and cheese.

Bake the dish in the oven for about 30 minutes until the casserole is heated through and the edges are starting to crisp. Top with chopped cilantro and serve.



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