Pizza Casserole for Aunt Honora…

I did not invent Pizza Casserole…this dish and it’s variations have been floating around on Pinterest for a while now.  When I first saw it I sort of rolled my eyes and moved one.  I mean, pizza casserole…how good could that be.  Well, let me be the first to tell you all…I was so wrong.  I went to bed that night thinking about that casserole, it haunted my dreams.  I got up the next day now obsessed with this dish and with a burning need to learn more about it.

I embarked on my quest to find the perfect version of Pizza Casserole…easy, fast, healthy.  It was a challenge I was willing to take on.  I made it the next night with my revisions and I’m pretty sure I nailed it…I felt like Kerri Strug must have when she stuck that vault at the olympics after breaking her leg or whatever.  I’m pretty sure if you look up “nailed it” in the dictionary you will see a photo of Kerri right after that vault next to a photo of me holding the casserole.

Let’s go over the ingredients for my healthy, yet equally delicious, pizza casserole…

1 pound – tubular pasta (I used Ziti)
1 pound – Italian turkey sausage
1 jar – good pasta sauce
16 oz – regular or lowfat cottage cheese
8 oz – regular or reduced fat mozzarella
canned mushrooms
sliced black olives
diced green peppers (optional)
dried oregano 

Go ahead and get a large pot of salted water going on the stove.  When it starts boiling, throw your pasta in.

Put a small amount of olive oil in a pan

Add the turkey sausage in pieces and start browning, you can break up any large pieces with a wooden spoon or spatula.  

You may have noticed by now that I use Italian turkey sausage in a lot of my recipes, that stuff is a miracle worker in recipes.  It is full of great flavors and spices but it’s also a much leaner choice than pork.  Anyway, while that is browning you can assemble the cheese part.

Here is what you need for that…

I am a huge fan of canned mushrooms but I realize you may not be and that’s okay.  You can leave them out if you want or you can add something else, like diced green peppers.

Put all of the above ingredients in a bowl and mix together.

Once the turkey sausage has been fully cooked, turn the stove off and add your sauce to the meat..

Once the pasta is cooked to al dente (almost done) strain it and then add it back to the pot. 

Now add your meat/sauce mixture to the pasta and stir it all together.

Get out a 9 x 13 baking dish and grease it with some olive oil.

Put half of the meat/sauce/pasta mixture down in the bottom of the dish and spread it out.

Now add half of the cheese mixture on top of that…and then repeat once more.

Sprinkle some dried oregano on top and then pop that baby in a 350° F oven for about 40 minutes and it’s done!

I like to make a salad while the casserole is cooking.  Eating the salad with the casserole may help prevent you from eating 5 pounds of the casserole but I’m not making any promises.

This is also something you can put together in the morning and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake it…or you can even freeze it for later.

I’m telling you, once your family sits down to eat this meal they will soon be getting back up to give you a full standing slow clap…you’re welcome.

When I first posted my finished product on facebook back in May my Great Aunt Honora asked for the recipe.  I had not seen my Aunt since my cousin’s wedding over a decade earlier but through the wonders of technology I was able to reconnect with her on facebook, thank you Mr. Zuckerberg for that.  I soon realized that Honora and I had A LOT in common, she totally got me and I started wondering when I could get out to Oregon to see her again.  But not long after reconnecting, Aunt Honora was diagnosed with cancer.  She of course handled the diagnosis with grace and a wonderful f**k you cancer attitude.  I’ve never witnessed someone be so brave, it was very humbling.  Honora left this world on January 10th, 2014 at 2:10 AM.  I’m sad that I didn’t get to see her again but I will always be so grateful that we were able to reconnect before she left, she taught me a valuable lesson that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. 

Aunt Honora, every time I make this recipe I think of you and I hope you remember me when you make it too…where ever you are.

Cheers…and screw you cancer!

The Good Cooker

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