The first time I ever made this for dinner, my husband said, “This is probably one of the best things you’ve ever made.” I was stunned. (And possibly a little insulted–a quinoa bake? What about all those fancy cakes I’ve made, or herb-marinated tilapia with mango salsa? Or my chicken pot pie?) But as I kept eating, I had to agree. This initially unassuming quinoa bake is in fact a consummately delicious comfort food. With stretchy mozzarella, fresh tomatoes bursting with flavor, and strips of basil, it’s pretty much all the things you love about a margherita pizza in creamy casserole form. As if margherita pizza could be improved upon! But for a little something different, I think I actually prefer this dish to the pizza of the same name. (Pause here for horrified gasp.)
Speaking of margherita pizza, have you ever wondered who Margherita was? I have, but maybe that’s because I spend approximately 90% of my mental energy thinking about food. Supposedly, back in 1889, a Neapolitan pizza maker was commissioned to make a pizza in honor of Queen Margherita, who was visiting Naples. (Um…I want to live in a country where people get commissioned to make pizzas.) He created three different pizzas–two of which have apparently been lost to history–and the queen was thrilled with the one that represented the colors of the Italian flag: red, green, and white. Thus was the pizza named Margherita, and thus did Margherita go down in history as Queen of Pizza, which is probably the greatest honorary title ever bestowed on a human being.
So for a little twist on an Italian classic (that happens to be gluten-free, if you’re into that sort of thing), give this one a whirl. With a green salad, it’s a tasty dinner that has won my heart, and my husband’s–and probably would win the Queen of Italy’s, too.
Creamy Caprese Quinoa Bake
(Adapted from Half Baked Harvest)
1 c. uncooked quinoa
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 1/2 c. tomato-basil pasta sauce
1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
scant 1/2 tsp. salt
scant 1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 c. shredded mozzarella, divided
1 1/2 c. grape tomatoes, sliced lengthwise, divided
12 large basil leaves, chiffonaded, divided
1. Thoroughly rinse quinoa in a fine-mesh sieve. Drain. Place quinoa in a large saucepan and cover with 2 cups water. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 15 minutes. Fluff with a fork and set aside in a separate container. Wipe the pot clean to be used later in the recipe.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. In the same large saucepan, heat tomato paste and pasta sauce until warm. Stir in Parmesan, heavy cream, red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Remove from heat and mix in cooked quinoa until well combined. Add half the mozzarella, half the sliced tomatoes, and half the basil leaves, stirring to combine.
4. Spray an 11 x 7 inch baking dish with cooking spray and pour quinoa mixture into the dish, smoothing the top with a spoon. Sprinkle the top with the remaining mozzarella and sliced tomatoes, pressing the tomatoes down slightly into the mixture.
5. Bake in the preheated oven 15-17 minutes, then turn broiler onto high. Broil 1-2 minutes (75 seconds is the sweet spot in my oven). Top with remaining basil strips and let stand 5 minutes before serving.