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How to Make Low-Glycemic Casseroles

Casseroles are a great timesaving make-ahead lunch option, especially if you prefer a hot lunch to cold salads or sandwiches. Casseroles often take a little more time to prepare, but they're usually still quick and easy enough to put together on a Sunday as a way for your family to liven up its lunch menu.

The best part is you get a whole lot of food for the week, as you can see from the following recipes.

Lemony Penne Pasta and Vegetable Bake

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

2 zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 yellow squash, cut into 1-inch cubes

2 red bell peppers, cut into 1-inch strips

10 mushrooms, halved

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 pound (about 12 ounces) penne pasta

1/4 cup olive oil plus 1 tablespoon

1 tablespoon lemon zest

4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon ground fennel

1/3 cup parmesan

Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

  2. In a large bowl, toss together the vegetables, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt, and garlic powder.

    Pour into roasting pan. Bake for 15 minutes until vegetables soften, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside. Decrease the oven to 350 degrees. Depending on the size of your roasting pan, you might need to increase the baking time because of the large amount of vegetables.

  3. While the vegetables are roasting, boil the pasta in a large pot of water according to package directions for about 6 minutes (the pasta will continue to cook during the baking time so cook it only part way).

    Reserve 1 cup of cooking water and drain the pasta into a colander.

  4. Make the lemon dressing in a small bowl. Mix together 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon rind, lemon juice and fennel seed.

    Use your pasta pot and mix together the cooked pasta, vegetables, and toss with the lemon dressing.

  5. Add 1/3 cup parmesan cheese and mix well. If the mixture seems to dry add a small amount of the reserved pasta water. Pour pasta and vegetables into a 9 x 13 baking pan.

  6. Bake for 20 minutes and remove from heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Per serving: Calories 370 (From Fat 122); Glycemic Load (Medium); Fat 14g (Saturated 0g); Cholesterol 4mg; Sodium 366mg; Carbohydrate 51g (Dietary Fiber 4g); Protein 12g.

Pasta can easily be a high-glycemic meal so the trick to making it work is to add other food components like vegetables so you eat less actual pasta per serving but also add some acid from the lemon juice to help lower the glycemic load for the meal.

While this version is vegetarian, you can easily add some chunked roasted chicken to the mix for those of you who want a little more protein.

Polenta Casserole with Tomato Sauce and Mozzarella

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Setting time: 2 hours

Cooking time: 1 hour

Yield: 6 servings

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus some to prep the baking dish

1 medium onion, chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped carrots

1/2 cup chopped yellow or orange bell pepper

3 garlic cloves, minced

One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano

1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Salt to taste, plus 1 teaspoon

Ground black pepper to taste

4 cups water

1 cup corn grits polenta (or coarse cornmeal)

1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan on medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and bell pepper. Cook until the vegetables are just tender, about 5 to 10 minutes.

  2. Add the garlic to the saucepan and cook 1 additional minute. Then add the tomatoes and their juice (breaking up the tomatoes as you put them in), as well as the parsley and oregano.

    Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat, and cook uncovered for 15 minutes, until the sauce is reduced to about 3 cups. Mix in the fresh basil and season to taste with the salt and pepper.

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  3. In another large saucepan, bring the water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Slowly whisk in the corn grits polenta (or coarse cornmeal).

    Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, until the polenta is thick and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

  4. Lightly grease an 8-x-8-x-2 glass or ceramic baking dish with olive oil. Spread one-third of the sauce over the bottom of the dish. Pour half the polenta over the sauce and sprinkle with half the cheese.

  5. Pour another third of the sauce over the cheese and then pour the remaining half of the polenta over the sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and cover with the remaining third of the sauce. Refrigerate for 2 hours.

  6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  7. Bake the casserole until it’s completely heated through, about 25 minutes. Let it cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Per serving: Calories 225 (From Fat 64); Glycemic Load 8 (Low); Fat 7g (Saturated 3g); Cholesterol 17mg; Sodium 665mg; Carbohydrate 33g (Dietary Fiber 5g); Protein 8g.

Polenta is a very tasty low-glycemic grain made out of cornmeal, so it offers a sweet taste. This is a simple vegetarian casserole you can put together and have for the week. Enjoy it with a side salad for a light lunch.

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