Baked Mac No Cheese and the Benefits of Using Cast Iron

 in Kitchen


Comfort food is something I search for constantly.  Something with roasted veggies, deep creamy notes and heartiness will always win my heart.  Chili, mac and cheese, scalloped potatoes, even bread are all rich comfort foods for me.

Each year when September comes I put down the raw salads, fruit smoothies and hummus dips and op for something baked.

Cast Irons are my secret weapon.
Perhaps it is a cult of people who love this type of dishware, but I seriously recommend it.
It’s a piece of cookware I literally can not live without.



Benefits of Cast Iron


– Versatile – They can be used on the stove top, in the oven and even over an open fire.
– Reduces your need for oil.
You can dry char things, even tortillas and have crunchy textures without using oil.
At the end of each cleaning you season with a little oil, but you can cook anything in a hot, well seasoned pan without adding oil.
-Safe! Can we talk about how teflon is not healthy for us. Cast Iron creates a natural non-stick surface that won’t scratch and will last for nearly ever.
– Even heating area. This is the best part. When you heat up any type of cast iron pan the heat radiates meaning you can cook the same in all areas of the pan.

 

Disadvantages


– Heavy. The first and foremost is obvious, but a few cast iron pans can really stack up in weight.
– Rust. In the tropics this is even more of a risk. Proper care is important (see next section). Cast irons beg to be used and well loved, a forgotten pan will start to rust.
-No Acidic food. This is a flexible rule, but it isn’t great to have things like tomatoes cooking in your cast iron. If your pans are years old it probably isn’t going to hurt every once and a while, but tomato sauces are out.

Caring for Cast Iron

I highly recommend buying a pre-seasoned cast iron.
However who can resist a good find at the thrift store?
Proper seasoning before you start to cook is essential.


Seasoning


1. Scrub with a metal bristle or steel wool.
If there is any rust spots give them extra attention until they are all gone.
2. Rinse with warm water.
3. Dry with a clean towel
4. Place on the stove top over medium heat, and heat to evaporate all the water.
5. Turn off heat
6. Preheat oven to 450 degrees
5. When pan is still warm but manageable use a clean towel to cover the entire top and bottom of the cast iron with a thin coat of oil. Wipe to remove extra, but cover the entire pan and handle well with oil.
6. When the oven is preheated place the pan into the oven, directly on the rack, cooking surface facing the bottom of the oven.
7. Bake for at least 1 hour. When finished turn off the oven and allow the cast iron to cool completely before moving it.
You now have a seasoned cast iron that can be used for any recipe.



Using and Normal Care.


1. Heat the cast iron completely before adding any food.
2. Cook as normal.
3. Wash with warm water, but no soap.
4. For extra stuck on food use a steel wool.
5. Dry extra water with a clean towel.
6. Heat on the stove over medium heat until all the water evaporates.
7. While the pan is still warm, use a clean towel and a very small amount of oil to cover the cooking surface. The surface should shine but have no extra cooking oil on it.
8. Store your cast iron until it’s next use.


Most of the time I use a hot cast iron without oil to give veggies a charred roasted quality without turning on the oven. Brussel sprouts, squash, and broccoli all really benefit from cooking this way.  

The even heating surface makes it ideal for toasting tortillas and bread too.

However as a casserole dish a cast iron will always shine. Some of my favorite comfort foods can be made in a cast iron, from baked potatoes to shepherds pie and bake creamy pasta dishes. The undershining glory, is that cast iron holds it heat a long time too, meaning everything you cook in it will still be warm when you go back for seconds (or thirds).


You can cook lentils anyway you want for this recipe, or use vegan crumbles. The original recipe called for ground beef. I also like to activate my lentils by soaking them overnight in water, this also cts down the cooking time by more than half.

 

Baked Mac No Cheese


Serves 4

Lentils
100 g soaked lentils
10 g fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook lentils in enough water to cover until soft (15-20 minutes for soaked beans), drain off extra water.


Pasta
300 g favorite pasta, gluten free works wonderful.

Boil water, add pasta and cook until al-dente.
Do not cook completly, they will finish getting soft in the oven.
Drain off water from pasta, but keep the hot starchy water.

 

Cheese Sauce
½ kg of butternut squash (1 medium)
100 g cashews (soaked overnight)
2 cloves of garlic
½ t fresh thyme
¼ t fresh rosemary
3 t nutritional yeast
Salt and pepper to taste
reserved pasta water


Peel the butternut squash and remove the seeds, cut into cubes.
In a preheated cast iron cook the squash cubes until they are evenly brown on all sides, moving them frequently.

Place the cooked butternut squash into a blender with all the rest of the ingredients and 1 cup of reserved pasta water. Blend until smooth adding salt to taste and pasta water the thin until a rich and completely creamy sauce is formed.

In a large bowl mix the half cooked pasta with the lentils and the prepared sauce. Mix well.
Place in baking pan of choice, including cast iron.
Optional, sprinkle with vegan cheese shreds or breadcrumbs.

Bake on 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes until the top is crunchy and golden.

Serve immediately, or while still warm.

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