Monthly Archives: March 2019

Pork and Summer Squash Casserole over Rice: Family Size or For a Crowd

pork and squash casserole
We could not wait to eat before taking a picture.

Background: The Emmanuel Episcopal Church of Wakefield MA offers a Community Dinner each month from September to June in partnership with Wakefield’s Horizon House Clubhouse. Horizon House provides their kitchen and dining room, and we provide the food, either via cooking or catering.

I love to cook for a crowd, so I try to sign up as lead cook for at least a few dinners a year and always try to find recipes that are on the healthy side, if only “healthyish,” to steal Bon Apetit’s descriptor, and that might be a bit different from the usual fare.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but this casserole is SO easy, and SO tasty, and was such a hit at a recent Community Dinner, that I finally got myself to sit down and get this recipe on line.

This month I totally lucked out in finding this pork and summer squash recipe. Not only is it really tasty, it is really easy to make, whether you are opting for the family size or multiplying out for a crowd. Also, the summer squash and diced tomatoes fill it out so a relatively small amount of pork is needed to satisfy even hard core carnivores.

Here is the original recipe that says it serves four:

Pork and Squash Casserole

6 ounces ground pork (use seitan for vegans and vegetarians)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped
4 ounces cremini* mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (preferably whole-wheat)
1 14.5-ounce can no-salt-added diced tomatoes
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup low-fat small-curd cottage cheese
1 1/4 cups shredded reduced-fat Mexican cheese blend (5 ounces)
1 large yellow squash, halved crosswise and thinly sliced lengthwise
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

* I used shitake mushrooms when I tested it at home on my husband

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork, 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Cook, breaking up the pork, until slightly browned, 2 minutes. Add the garlic, mushrooms, half of the scallions and 2 tablespoons panko; cook 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, half of the parsley and 1/3 cup water. Increase the heat to high; cook until slightly thickened, 3 minutes.
  2. Combine the cottage cheese, 3/4 cup Mexican cheese and the remaining parsley in a bowl. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons panko in a 9-inch-square baking dish. Top with half of the squash, overlapping slightly; season with salt. Top with two-thirds of the pork sauce and the cheese mixture. Add the remaining squash; season with salt. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons panko, pork sauce and 1/2 cup Mexican cheese.
  3. Cover with foil** and bake until the cheese melts and the squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover and turn on the broiler;* broil until golden, 2 minutes. Top with the remaining scallions.

** Thinking that covering in foil would be a bother when making the crowd-size version, I opted, in my home test, to leave the casserole uncovered and just cooked it a bit longer so the cheesy top got a bit crusty in texture. It worked just fine. 🙂

NOTE: While the original recipe calls for cutting the squash in half and slicing longwise, as shown here, I found it works way better to slice is VERY thin rounds and layer across the area.

I did not serve my test version over rice and it worked well an an entrée served solo, and is a great choice if you want a low carb meal, However, as you will see below, I opted to serve it over rice when cooking for the crowd.

Here is the recipe to use if you are cooking for 35-40 and serving just the casserole, or, for 50 if you opt to serve it over rice.

Pork and Squash Casserole for a Crowd*

4 pounds ground pork
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
8 clove garlic, chopped
2 pounds mushrooms, stemmed and chopped
20 scallions, chopped
4 cups panko breadcrumbs (preferably whole-wheat)
116 ounces** of no-salt-added diced tomatoes
2 cups chopped fresh parsley
6 cups low-fat small-curd cottage cheese
3 or more pounds (never too much cheese!) shredded Mexican cheese blend
6 pounds yellow squash, sliced in thin rounds
As many tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil as needed to sauté. ***

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork, 2 teaspoons salt and ½ to 1 teaspoon of pepper. Cook, breaking up the pork, until slightly browned, 5-10 minutes as needed.
Add the garlic, mushrooms, half of the scallions and 1cup panko; cook another 5 or so minutes.
Add the tomatoes, half of the parsley and 1 1/2 cups**** water. Increase the heat to high; cook until slightly thickened, 5-10 minutes.
Combine the cottage cheese, two thirds of the Mexican cheese and the remaining parsley in a bowl.
Sprinkle 1 1/2 cup panko in a 9-inch-square baking dish.
Top with half of the squash, overlapping slightly; season with salt.
Top with two-thirds of the pork sauce and the all the cheese mixture. Add the remaining squash; season with salt.
Add the remaining 1 ½ cup panko, pork sauce and remaining Mexican cheese.
Bake until the cheese melts and forms a crust and the squash is tender, about 40 or more minutes. To hold until serving, put oven at 180-200 degrees. Top with the remaining scallions, if desired, before serving.
* My test batch would have made five, not four servings, so I multiplied the original recipe by 8 to make 40 servings. In addition, although using 6 oz of ground pork worked perfectly well in my home test batch, I used 8 oz per 5 servings as my baseline for the crowd size and got 8×8=48/16 oz per pound, so four pounds of pork.
** four 26 oz cans and one 14.5 oz can will do it.
*** We split the pork between to 14 inch pans and went from there.
**** Multiplying the original amount of water by 8 was way too much. Cornstarch came to our rescue. 🙂

Last but not least, to stretch the meal in case we got more guests than we expected, I opted to make a batch of rice to go with the meal. I used converted rice because brown rice can be a tough sell with some crowds, but at least converted rice has more nutrients than white rice. Also, the recipe called for converted rice, although it noted it would work for brown rice – just cook brown rice longer. Since the recipe was for 50 servings, I went with it as is.

Rice for 50

NOTE: Some recipes say to rinse the converted rice first, others say not to so as to not lose nutrients. I went with the latter advice as it said the same on the package of Uncle Ben’s converted rice that I used.

3 1/2 lbs. converted rice
2 tbsp. sea salt
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 qt. boiling water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Place rice in a 12x20x2 1/2″ pan.
Boil 4 qt. of water in a large pot and add 2 tbsp. of sea salt. Make sure the salt dissolves fully.
Add 2 tbsp. of extra-virgin olive oil to your water and pour the mixture over your converted rice slowly so that the rice remains even throughout the pan.
Cover your pan with aluminum foil. Tighten the foil along the edges of the pan to prevent the water from evaporating too quickly during the cooking process.
Open your oven once it has reached 350 degrees Fahrenheit and place your pan in the center. Set your oven timer to 60 minutes.
Remove the pan from oven after an hour and place it on top of your stove to allow it to cool for five to 10 minutes.
Remove the aluminum foil and use a fork to fluff your rice before serving it.

That’s it! We also served a simple salad of romaine hearts, cherry tomatoes, sliced English cucumber, and grated carrot, tossed with a modest amount of Italian dressing. AND Applesauce Cake with quick and easy cream cheese frosting. Click HERE for the family and crowd size for dessert.

I plan to add more of the recipes I have used when cooking for our community dinners, so always check back!

Applesauce Cake made with White Whole Wheat and Oat Flour with Quick Cream Cheese Frosting

applesauce cake
We ate most of it before remembering to take a picture, a common theme. 🙂

When devising the menu for a recent community dinner (click HERE to see the other menu items) I looked for a healthyish dessert, and was thinking that some kind of oatmeal/applesauce sort of bar would be nice. However, I ended up finding an amazing applesauce cake recipe that, and this is very important for this “once in a great while baker,” easy as well as tasty and left room for nutritional improvements. I switched out the white flour for 2/3 part white wheat whole wheat flour and 1/3 part oat flour, which I ground from oatmeal in my Nutra Bullet.

By the way, I highly recommend this handy kitchen appliance. But, back to the cake: I also cut the amount of sugar by half, and, to give a little flavor boost, used 1/2 cup brown sugar with 1/2 cup white sugar instead of the full cup of white sugar. It was SUPER! My husband Steve and I both loved it, (I always test recipes at home before serving to a crowd) and even more so because it is SO EASY TO MAKE. As noted above, I am not one to bake. But with this recipe, all you do is measure and dump all the ingredients into a big bowl, mix it up with a big ol’ wooden spoon or the like, and pour the mix into an UNGREASED pan (I hate greasing pans!) and bake it. Can you tell I am excited that I now have a delicious and foolproof cake recipe? Everyone needs one.

Here is the recipe as I make it for 10-12 servings in a 9×13″ pan. Click the recipe title for the original recipe, for which I am eternally grateful. Do read the comments, though. It cooks more quickly than the 60 minutes noted in the original recipe.

Applesauce Cake
1 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour ( I used King Arthur flour)
1 cup oat flour*
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt
3⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon
1⁄2 teaspoon clove
1⁄2 teaspoon allspice
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
1⁄2 cup water
1 1⁄2 cups unsweetened applesauce
2 eggs

* You can use a food processor, blender, or a Nutra Bullet type appliance to grind your own from oats, or purchase pre-ground.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine all ingredients; pour into a 9×13″ pan.
Start checking at 35 minutes. It is done when a toothpick comes out clean and/or you get a hollow sound when you tap the top lightly.

For the community dinner, I multiplied the recipe by three. I used one 20x12x2.5″ pan, and it worked fine, although it was higher in the middle versus flat across the top, as was the cake I made in the 9×13″ pan. Perhaps it would be better split between two of those big pans, thinner but more even. Hmm. I will have to experiment and update here once I do.

NOTE: just do the math to make as much cake as you want. Use 12 serving as the baseline for the original recipe and go from there.

Now for the frosting! I didn’t use frosting for the batch I made at home, and truthfully, the cake is plenty moist and flavorful to stand on its own. But, why not have more of a good thing? Here is the recipe.

Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 12 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchâtel), at room temperature
  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons low-fat plain Greek yogurt
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Beat cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, yogurt, and vanilla in a mixing bowl until smooth.
Make Ahead Tip: Refrigerate for up to 3 days. Let come to room temperature before using.

NOTE: I doubled the amount and it was way too much for just the top of a 20×12 cake. In fact, I saw a comment saying that using just an 8 oz pack of cream cheese was fine for the 9×13 cake size even when icing the sides. So, there is that to consider. But, you can always pop any leftover frosting in the fridge and make some more cake. Never too much good cake. 🙂