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Though winter isn’t officially here according to the calendar, early sunsets and chilly nights mean that it’s fast approaching. As someone who loves daylight and loses steam once the sky goes dark, it’s around this time each year that I put my antihibernation plan into action.
During these darker months, my natural inclination is to burrow down — to stay close to home and not surface again until the warmer days return. While this might have been an appropriate survival strategy during another era, in my current life, it initiates a most unpleasant spiral of isolation. This is no good for anyone.
And so I fight back against this tendency to hole up using food. I throw dinner parties and invite friends over for spur-of-the-moment potlucks. I organize brunch outings. I make extra large batches of soup and carry it to harried neighbors. And at least once a weekend, I make an extra large casserole, just in case.
These days, one of my favorite recipes is Giada’s Greek Noodle Casserole. It’s essentially a slightly simplified version of Pastitsio and ends up tasting like an exotic, homemade version of Hamburger Helper. For those of us who grew up on the stuff (it is what my dad would make on nights when he was in charge), that makes this endlessly comforting and familiar. Perfect for combating short days and cooking as your Weekender.
Before you get cooking, here are a few things you should know:
— Ground lamb can often be quite greasy. If your meat seems to be swimming in oil after you’ve browned it, pour the fat off into a small dish before proceeding to the next step in the recipe.
— When you cook the pasta, make sure to stop just shy of al dente. Because this dish gets baked, this prevents the noodles from dissolving into mush during their time in the oven.
— This dish calls for a ton of mint. If your mint plants have died back for the season or you can’t afford the grocery store prices, use baby spinach instead. Simply chop it fine and stir it in. It won’t be quite as authentic, but you’ll still get your greens.
— I like to serve this casserole with a giant green salad to balance out its richness. Should you want to keep all the components of the meal warm, however, a pan of softened kale with garlic is also nice.
Marisa McClellan is a food writer and canning teacher who lives in Center City Philadelphia. Find more of her food (all cooked up in her 80-square-foot kitchen) at her blog, Food in Jars. Her first cookbook, Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year Round, is now available.