Main Course, Vegetarian

Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake

0 Comments 28 February 2014

If you go into a recipe expecting to not enjoy it, the likelihood of not enjoying it is probably at least somewhat assured. I admit I’ve developed a small aversion to quinoa in my mind after trying a couple of different recipes, but when Sis Blogging Partner brought up the subject again, I thought maybe we haven’t tried the right recipe yet. The right mix of yummy ingredients with those funky little weird-tasting seed things. To, you know, completely fool my taste buds. Like a kid with broccoli, maybe I’m going to have to somewhat hide the strangeness of quinoa in order to appreciate it.

Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake-1

Turns out the secret to making myself enjoy quinoa lies in the complex and ancient secrets of cheese. That creamy texture. Make that a lot of that creamy texture, cuz the more you use, the less the flavor of the quinoa itself interferes with this dreamy dish.

Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake-3

I have to ask, too, am I the only one that tastes a sort of chemical-like taste with quinoa? I’ve read that if you don’t rinse it well enough (anyone got a clue how much/long you rinse it and HOW when it is so tiny; it was difficult even with my most fine mesh strainer), it can be bitter. But we’ve now tried it where you rinse it yourself and some that is already washed and ready to use. Both have a distinctly unpleasant almost chemical-like taste. So, strike one, quinoa. I guess I need to become better at rinsing.

Did I mention that previous aversion to the stuff?

Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake-2

Moving on, we come to the distinctly pleasant part of the recipe – a few of our favorite fresh things, like cute little tomatoes and basil. Of you like these things, well hold on, you only need one more ingredient to be a caprese-loving fool.

Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake-4

This recipe makes a lot of quinoa. As tiny as those seeds originally are, it’s always surprising to me how much they puff up and seem to multiply. Once cooked, they’re still just a bit chewy, not as soft as pasta that’s just past its al dente state, but maybe a little chewier than al dente pasta. They’re actually kind of cute in their own little weird, tentacle-y way.

Do make sure you stick around while this stuff is cooking on your stove. I stepped out with the burner on low for just a minute or so and when we went back to the kitchen it had overflowed (the stuff was foaming horribly too prior to this – I know, must rinse more) and made a really awesome mess. Cooking, always an adventure!

Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake-5

At this point, add in a cup of your favorite jarred or homemade marinara sauce, a little heavy cream, some Parmesan and red pepper flakes. In hindsight, Sis Blogging Partner was right – this was a LOT of quinoa and some more sauce would have helped not only to moisten the dish overall, but it’s also pretty good at hiding the natural flavor of the quinoa. The part I don’t care for.

Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake-7

Next, add some of those yummy grape tomatoes. Hey, it can only go up from here, right?

Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake-8

We were right! It got even better! Add lots of bright, wonderful basil. Yes, this is happening! I might enjoy some quinoa!

Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake-9

And of course the top needs some more cheese. We had plenty of Parmesan, so we threw a little of that on top of the mozzerella. Speaking of the mozzerella, I thought about getting fresh, but for whatever reason didn’t. Next time I’ll definitely use fresh mozzerella. Shredding low-fat mozzerella ourselves worked really well, it’s just that fresh would work even better.

Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake-10

Last step before baking: a few more of those little tomatoes.

Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake-11

This smelled incredibly good while baking, and the top alone, well, it pretty much makes you want to be a believer in quinoa.

Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake-16

This is a really pretty dish. Baked, melty cheese is so, so purty. And yummy. And we wanted to taste this immediately.

Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake-14

The verdict is: it’s not too bad! Due to personal tastes (as with pretty much any recipe), I’d do some things differently next time, but as is, this is the most successful recipe we’ve tried with quinoa in terms of flavor. Yes, those mysterious cheesy qualities once again reigned supreme, adding their always taste-bud-pleasing effects. The marinara sauce is what really saves it, though, added to the quinoa. With the sauce, the original quinoa flavor isn’t nearly as noticeable to me. Add to that the freshness of the basil and tomatoes, I’d almost say this dish was yummy. Sis Blogging Partner liked it a lot more than I did, but this is pretty much the norm for us and quinoa so far. If you’re looking to healthify your life, but you don’t wnt to completely sacrifice it all, this isn’t too shabby a place to start.

Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake

Originally from Half Baked Harvest

  • 2 cups cooked quinoa
  • 1 cup favorite pasta sauce
  • 2 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup parmesan cheese (plus about 1/4 cup for topping)
  • 1 cup mozzarella, divided
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 large bunch fresh basil, cut into ribbons
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9×9 casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Heat tomato sauce and tomato paste over low heat in a large saucepan, about 3-5 minutes. Once warm, stir in heavy cream, parmesan, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and stir in the quinoa. Fold in half of the mozzarella and half of the tomatoes, then most of the chopped basil (reserve some for topping). Pour mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Top with fresh mozzarella rounds or shredded mozzarella and the remaining tomatoes (top also with the additional Parmesan, if using).

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes and then turn the broiler on and broil for 1 to 2 minutes or until cheese is golden and bubbly.

Remove from the oven and top with fresh basil ribbons. Allow to rest and cool five minutes and serve.

Notes:

Use a little more marinara sauce, for one. Maybe one and a quarter cup to start and go from there.

What I’d do differently next time: layer the dish like a lasagna. In a slightly bigger casserole dish, sprayed with nonstick spray, put down a layer of half the quinoa mixture. Top that with some of the mozzarella and tomatoes. Lay down another layer of the quinoa, using it all up, then again with the mozzarella and tomatoes. Top with a little more shredded Parmesan cheese. Bake. Enjoy!

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- who has written 346 posts on Full Fork Ahead.

Wife, mom, indulgent reader and book blogger, who occasionally likes to think she can cook. Sometimes she's right, sometimes she's wrong.

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