The three most requested dinners by my children are pizza of any theme, Creamy Potato Soup, and this Cheesy Broccoli and Pasta dish. I think it's all about the cheese with them.
Cheese is one of life's indispensable pleasures for us. In our area, there are several small (and large) scale dairies that produce some amazing local cheeses. We often drive to one that is nearby just to get fresh cheese curds, still warm and squeaky, and end up eating most of them in the car on the way home. That same dairy also has the most amazing fresh mozzarella sticks - salty and pliable, and they just melt in your mouth. We also live very near a fromagerie that specializes in artisan cheeses from around the world, and when the children were learning about new countries in our History class, we would always go over to the fromagerie and sample cheeses from that country and then buy some of our favorites to create a dish from whichever country we were studying. And on Christmas Eve, when all the other children left cookies and milk for Santa, mine left him French goat cheese and crackers (Santa doesn't love goat cheese, by the way, and one year he left a note thanking them for their generosity, but requesting fresh cheese curds and smoked gouda).
This dish is a recipe I found on Allrecipes a few years ago. Really, the only things I changed in the recipe were the some of the instructions, a couple of the measurements, and I use real garlic instead of garlic salt; the combination of cheeses and few herbs and spices were already such a perfect match for the broccoli. Here is the link to the original recipe: Pasta Broccoli Bake. I don't suggest using frozen broccoli though, because it just doesn't pack enough broccoli flavor for some reason. I have used broccoli that I purchased in the summer, quickly blanched and then froze, and that was fine, but the commercial frozen broccoli just doesn't work well. Use fresh if you can find it, and keep the florets large so they don't get soggy in the pasta water.
Also, penne pasta works, but not as well as a pasta with ridges to hold the sauce, so try to use a corkscrew shaped pasta such as fusilli or rotini.
Pasta Broccoli Bake
serves 8 - 9
- 8 oz dry whole grain fusilli or rotini pasta
- 1 1/2 lbs fresh broccoli florets
- 1/3 c butter
- 1/3 c flour
- 3 c milk
- 1 1/2 c shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 3/4 c shredded parmesan cheese
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp dried thyme
- 3/4 c shredded swiss cheese
Preheat oven to 350F.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add in the pasta, then the broccoli, and stir. Return to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for about 6-8 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente and the broccoli is just tender. Do not overcook. Drain.
Place the sharp cheddar, parmesan, garlic, salt, nutmeg, and thyme in a small bowl. Set aside.
While the pasta and broccoli are cooking, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour with a wire whisk. Gradually whisk in the milk. Continue to cook over medium heat, whisking often, until mixture is thick and just beginning to bubble, about 5-7 minutes. Remove from heat.
Immediately whisk in half of the sharp cheddar and parmesan mixture until melted. Whisk in the rest until all is melted.
Place the broccoli and pasta back in the empty pot. Pour the cheese mixture in and mix well.
Transfer to a 9x13 pan (no need to oil the pan).
Top with the shredded swiss cheese.
Bake uncovered for about 20 minutes, or until bubbly. Allow to stand about 5 minutes before serving.