It’s been quite a whirlwind of activity down here in Alabama and it’s a blessing to be able to sit down for a second and check up on everyone’s holiday and give you all a recipe. It certainly looks like everyone had a relaxing, family-filled, delicious Christmas yesterday! For me, this week has been filled with family–or almost family, I suppose. Given that my mom isn’t married yet, the family is soon-to-be, and there’s quite a lot of it. I come from a tiny one, so the plethora of step-siblings, step-nephews and nieces, step-cousins, step-uncles, and step-grandparents is hard to keep track of. Don’t ask me to name names–I won’t remember any of them!

But for one afternoon my mom and her fiance, Todd, and I did break free from the Christmas madness and tromp around Dauphin Island. Dauphin Island is one of the major barrier islands on the Gulf coast and it was great to see the ocean–so gray, but so beautiful–and picnic on the beach for an hour or two. A few years back in an ecology class on barrier islands we studied the island, so it was fun to see something I’d read and talked about at length. The natural gas rigs off shore were a bit disheartening, but even their creepy, spider-like shadows fit the wintry ocean scene.

Tonight we’re having all of Todd’s kids over for a Christmas dinner so I’ve been in the kitchen working all morning and afternoon. Most of his kids and kids’ kids are vegetarian and a few of them are gluten-intolerant, so I’ve had fun thinking of dishes that would be special, yet easy enough to find ingredients for in a small, not-so-gluten-free-friendly town. A few weeks ago I helped a friend make Rachael Ray’s Pumpkin Sausage Lasagna for a food ministry and I figured that everyone would love a delicious gluten-free pasta dish. Unfortunately gluten-free lasagna noodles were not to be found at the local WinDixie, but I did find a bag of gluten-free penne. By layering the pasta with the bechamel sauce and veggies, I was able to make a delicious and creamy, if not photogenic, pasta casserole. I substituted butternut squash for the pumpkin and mushrooms for the sausage, but feel free to substitute any squash or alternative meat.

I hope everyone is enjoying their Christmas/holiday weekend!

Gluten-Free Butternut Pasta Casserole

adapted from Rachael Ray

2 tbsp olive oil
8 oz button or portobello mushrooms, chopped into small pieces
1 large eggplant, peeled and chopped into small pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp Earth Balance
1 1/2 tbsp rice flour
1 1/2 tbsp soy/chickpea flour
3 c soy milk
2 c butternut squash/pumpkin puree*
10 oz gluten-free penne pasta

Preheat the oven to 375.

In a medium pot, bring water to a boil. Add the penne and cook until slightly al dente. Remove from heat, rinse with cold water, set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic, cook 1 more minute. Add the eggplant and mushrooms and cook for 5-7 minutes, until tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

While the vegetables are cooking, melt the Earth Balance in a medium sauce pan. Add the flours and whisk to make a roux. Slowly add the soy milk, whisking constantly, until a sauce forms. Whisk and cook for 10-15 minutes, until it thickens. Add the squash puree* and cook for one more minute. Add salt and pepper to taste.

In a medium casserole dish (a deep 8×8 or a 9×13), cover the bottom with the sauce. Next layer some pasta, then the veggies, then another layer of the sauce, etc.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and cook an additional 10 minutes.

Let cool, then serve.

Serves 6-8.

*To make squash puree, peel, seed, and dice a large butternut squash. Place in a pot of boiling water and cook until tender. Drain the water and mash.

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