Butternut Squash, Tomato, Fennel and Orzo Casserole with Sage

orzo casseroleOrzo is the rice version of pasta – it’s a bit bigger than rice when it cooks up, but you get the idea. Definitely under cook the orzo when assembling this dish or you’ll have gooey pasta in your casserole by the time you bake it with all the added ingredients. Butternut squash is the star in this dish – as it should be. We love butternut squash in all sorts of winter dishes. That and the sage just seem to go together like Ginger and Fred and in this dish they do quite the dance.  Oh, and if you’re not a fan of orzo – not everyone is – substitute one of those darling mini pastas, like baby penne or tiny bowties. This dish, by the way, is supremely child-friendly.  Danielle demoed this at US Botanic Garden and Brookside in February 2015, when our month’s theme was “hearty casseroles.” Adapted from the original by Martha Stewart.

1 C orzo pasta
1 small (about 1 pound) butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch wedges
1 small red onion, slices into half moons
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 T olive oil
1 small bulb (¼ pound) fennel, rinsed and trimmed of stalks and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 (15-oz.) can diced tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted
1 T fresh sage, chopped
1 C Monterey jack cheese, shredded
Sea salt and pepper, to taste

Topping:
1 C Panko breadcrumbs
1 T olive oil
1 T parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of water for the pasta to a boil. Add orzo and cook for 5 minutes, until slightly firm to the bite; drain and transfer to a medium-sized bowl.

While the pasta is cooking, spread the butternut squash in an even layer on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil. Roast until tender, 12 to 15 minutes then add to the bowl with the orzo.

Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sliced onions and garlic and cook until slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Add the fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Lastly, add the tomatoes and sage and increase the heat. Bring the mixture to a boil for 2 minutes, then transfer to the bowl with the orzo and squash. Mix everything well, season with salt and pepper. Add the shredded cheese and mix again.

Transfer orzo mixture to an 8×8 baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 minutes, until cheese is melted. While the casserole is baking, mix together the panko, chopped parsley and olive oil. Remove the foil from the casserole and sprinkle the top with panko mixture. Bake, uncovered, until panko is toasted, about 10 -15 minutes more. Serves 6.

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