Greek Pasta Casserole

This makes a HUGE casserole. It freezes very well, too; cut into individual portions and freeze in heavy duty quart-size freezer bags for quick lunches and future dinners.

Enlightened Filling:
1 pound multigrain penne
2 pounds lean ground beef (*see below for vegetarian options)
2 medium onions, chopped
1/2 cup red wine
1 and 1/3 cups good-quality marinara sauce
1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 and 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt

Lighter Parmesan Bechamel:
3 cups low-fat milk (I used 1%)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons sifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Related: Mom's Chicken and Broccoli Pasta

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta in a large pot of salted water for 3 minutes fewer than specified on box (~8 minutes). Drain; set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, over medium heat, cook ground beef, breaking apart pieces with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink. Add onions; cook and stir 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a colander; drain fat, and discard. Return beef to pan; add wine. Cook over medium heat until almost all liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

Stir in marinara sauce, cinnamon, oregano, salt, and 2 cups water; simmer 15 minutes , stirring occasionally, until thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To prepare topping, place milk in a 4-cup glass measure. Microwave at HIGH 3 minutes or until hot, stirring after 2 minutes. Melt butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, stirring with a whisk, and cook 1 minute or until bubbly, stirring constantly. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly with a whisk. Bring to a simmer; cook over low heat 8 minutes or until sauce slightly thickens, stirring frequently. Remove from heat, and stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in Parmesan.

Add pasta to beef mixture; transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour sauce over the top, smoothing with the back of a spoon until level. Bake until browned in spots, 35 to 40 minutes. Remove from oven; let cool 15 minutes before serving. Makes 10 generous servings.

Vegetarian Option: 2 cups lentils can be cooked (about 4 cups cooked) until tender and then used in place of the ground beef.

Nutrition per serving (1/10 of casserole):
Calories 403; Fat 8.9g (poly 0.9g, mono 2.7g, sat 4.1g); Protein 27.8g; Cholesterol 97mg; Carbohydrate 58g; Sodium 690mg; Fiber 4.9g)

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