Spaghetti Casserole with Fresh Greens and Feta

I’m less than two months from my next marathon (Space Coast Marathon in Florida), so a lot of my life is consumed by carbs. Last year, I gained several pounds while training for Marine Corps Marathon. I expect at least some of that weight came from my weekly trips out for pizza to carb up for my long weekend runs. While I’m not obsessed by my weight, I’m aware that extra pounds equate to extra effort while running, so I’ve tried to put more thought into carb loading and how I can manage it at home without loading up on too many refined carbohydrates and cheese. (Though I’m still treating myself to my favorite thick-crust pizza before some of my long runs.)

With that in mind, when the Atlanta’s high temperatures dropped into the 60’s I started thinking about casseroles. One of my good friends makes a terrific spaghetti casserole, but I thought I could try a new spin on it. I added a bunch of fresh vegetables, replaced the meat with fresh greens, and used feta cheese (which has such a strong flavor that very little is needed). When I went through my stock of produce, I noticed that I had some ripe avocados. I’ve read in several places that combining avocado and tomatoes increases the absorptions of the good nutrients in tomatoes, so I added them to the casserole.

You could use store-bought tomato sauce for this, but making your own is really easy. It takes a little time to simmer but the active time (chopping vegetables and stirring) is minimal. Use whatever you have on hand. I had onions, garlic, red bell pepper and mushrooms. Other combinations would work equally well. For the greens, I almost always have Organic Girl Super Greens in my fridge, but any fresh greens would work well. I used to steam my greens before adding them to lasagna. For this, I added them fresh and let them cook slightly while the casserole warmed. They were still a little crisp when it came out of the oven, which I thought was a big improvement (and easier, too).

For the sauce, heat in a large Dutch oven:

  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil

When shimmering add:

  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Cook, stirring constantly, for about one minute. Then add:

  • 2 medium sweet onions, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 tsp. salt

Cook, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat until the vegetables start to soften (about 10 minutes). Add to the pan:

  • 8 ounces mushrooms (I use baby bella mushrooms), thinly sliced

Cook for another 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add to the pan:

  • 3/4 cup red wine
  • 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes (I use Muir Glen organic fire-roasted tomatoes)

Reduce heat to medium low and simmer for 10-15 minutes while cooking:

  • 1o-12 ounces spaghetti (I use brown rice spaghetti)

In the meantime, set aside the remaining ingredients:

  • 4 ounces fresh greens
  • 2 avocados, thinly sliced
  • 4 ounces good quality feta cheese
  • About 1 ounce pecorino romano or parmesan cheese, shredded (if desired)

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees, and lightly oil a 9×13 baking pan. Put about 1/3 of sauce in a thin layer in the bottom of the pan. Then layer:

  • 1/2 of spaghetti
  • 1/2 of greens
  • 1 avocado (sliced)
  • 1/2 of feta
  • 1/3  of sauce
  • 1/2 of spaghetti
  • 1/2 of greens
  • 1 avocado (sliced)
  • 1/2 of feta
  • remaining sauce

Bake until warmed through (about 15 minutes). If desired grate pecorino romano cheese on top, then return to oven for another 5 minutes. Allow to sit about 5 minutes before serving.

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