north platte october casserole recipe

My sister-in-law in North Platte made this casserole last week while we were visiting.  She is such a good cook!  And she shares recipes, too, which is why I can share it with you.  I didn’t take a picture because I was too hungry (I’d worked up an appetite shopping for cowboy boots, you see)!  But here she is making our breakfast the next morning, even though we told her not to make our breakfast.

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1 1/2 pounds butternut squash (approx. 2), peeled and cut into 2″ chunks

1 TBS olive oil

6 sprigs of fresh thyme (I’ll use dried thyme when I make this, because I don’t have sprigs of anything growing in the vicinity)

1 pound sweet Italian sausage, either in a lump or removed from its casings

1 tsp fennel seeds  (I love fennel!!)

1 bunch of kale, washed and chopped (I can’t eat kale so my SIL used fresh spinach instead–wasn’t that nice?)

6 garlic cloves, chopped up

8 0z uncooked rigatoni or similar pasta

2 cups of half-and-half

1 1/2 cups of grated Parmesan

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 375.  Grease a 13 x 9 casserole dish.  Start boiling the water for pasta.

Toss together:  squash, olive oil, thyme, 1/4 tsp salt and a shake or two of black pepper on a large baking sheet.  Bake 20-25 min until squash is cooked but not mushy.  Toss out the thyme sprigs.

Put sausage and fennel seeds in a large Dutch oven or deep skillet and cook over medium-high heat.  Stir frequently to break up sausage, until meat is cooked and no longer pink.  Remove sausage and drain most of the oil.  Return pan to stove, turn heat to medium and add kale/spinach and garlic.  Saute until spinach wilts, about 4 min.  Add 1/4 tsp salt and pepper.  Turn off heat and put sausage back in the pan.

Cook pasta in boiling water, but cook it for 2 minutes less than the directions on the package.  Drain well, toss with sausage mixture.  Add half-and-half, chicken broth and 1/2 the cheese and toss.  Transfer to baking pan, top with breadcrumbs and remaining cheese.  Bake 25 minutes.  Serves 8.

****If you’re making this ahead of time, don’t add the liquids (cream, broth and cheese) until you are ready to bake.

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