This hearty pasta and lentil casserole features stewed tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion and a dairy-free cheese sauce. It’s my vegan take on a family recipe for Roman Holiday that has been passed down through the generations.
First of all, let me start by saying that no one in the Hall family lineage is Italian.
So when I married Greg and he raved about a family pasta dish that was passed down from his English-Scottish grandmother, I was a little bit skeptical, especially with me being part Italian and all.
When I became aware of what I found to be a strange combination of ingredients, I thought for sure my Italian ancestors would smack me in the back of the head for taking part in recreating any such thing.
If you search for "Roman Holiday Casserole" online, you will find various listings for casserole recipes, some of which were also passed down from generation to generation.
It seems the recipe was popular during World War II since it was inexpensive to make.
Although the ingredients vary from recipe to recipe, most of them appear to include ground beef, onion, canned tomatoes or tomato sauce of some sort and either American or cheddar cheese.
However, I also noticed that some variations use ingredients like sausage, bell pepper, celery, olives, mushrooms and other types of cheeses.
I even saw some that use tomato soup.
Then, I compared these other recipes to Grandma Hall’s version.
These were her ingredients: elbow macaroni, cubed ham, cubed cheddar cheese, stewed tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion and shredded cheddar cheese for the top.
I have to say I found it a bit odd that Grandma Hall’s version called for two ingredients I didn’t see in any of the other recipes...ham and carrots.
I also found it interesting that she opted for stewed tomatoes which offer a different flavor profile than using just plain canned tomatoes.
I suppose she just used what she had on hand at the time and voila, her version of Roman Holiday was born.
So, since Grandma Hall adapted the recipe to suit her needs, I took the liberty of adapting it to suit mine.
And that meant not only making it vegan, but also gluten-free so her grandson could once again gobble some up. 😉
Trying to stay as true as possible to her version of the dish, I opted to use lentils to replace the meat and my vegan cheese sauce to stand in for the dairy-based cheese.
And since Grandma Hall used elbow macaroni in her version, I decided to also use elbows, just the gluten-free version.
Of course, if you're not avoiding gluten, you can use traditional elbows if you prefer.
Ingredients you'll need
For the vegan cheese sauce
- Yellow Potatoes
- Nutritional Yeast
- Olive Oil
- Lemon Juice
- Garlic Powder
- Onion Powder
For the casserole
- Gluten-Free Elbow Macaroni - I used Jovial brand brown rice pasta.
- Vegetable Broth
- Yellow Onion
- Salt & Pepper
- Canned Lentils (brown or green) - I used this Natural Value brand. I also recommend Westbrae or a precooked bagged version instead such as this kind from Geffen.
- Stewed Tomatoes - I used Muir Glen organic stewed tomatoes. You want to use the kind seasoned with bell pepper and celery as well as onion or garlic, not the Italian or Mexican blends.
- Canned Tomato Sauce - I used Muir Glen.
How to make this vegan Roman Holiday casserole with lentils - step by step
The first step is to make the dairy-free cheese sauce.
Peel and cut the potatoes and carrots into small chunks and add them to a 2-qt. pot.
Cover the potatoes and carrots with water, and bring to a boil and cook until tender (approximately 10-12 minutes).
Add olive oil, nutritional yeast, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, turmeric, lemon juice and water to a high-powered blender.
Blend on high until the ingredients are well-incorporated and the sauce is smooth and creamy, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed.
Keep in the blender until ready to use.
Next, preheat your oven to 375°F.
Then, par-cook the pasta in a 5- or 6-qt. pot for 4 minutes less than the package directs.
For example, if the package's cooking time is 12 minutes, cook the pasta for 8 minutes. If the package gives a range, such as 9-11 minutes, use the average and subtract 4 (so in this case, the pasta would cook for 6 minutes).
While the pasta is cooking, warm vegetable broth in a 12-inch skillet and add the carrots, celery and onion. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Saute until tender and most or all of the liquid has dissipated.
Remove from the heat and stir in the lentils.
Set aside until ready to use.
When the pasta is done, drain in a colander.
While the pasta is draining, add the stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce to the pot you used to cook the pasta. Stir to combine.
Use 1 cup of the stewed tomato/tomato sauce mixture to line the bottom of a 9" x 13" casserole dish.
Add the lentil and veggie mixture to the pot.
Stir to combine and add the pasta. Stir to to combine.
Give the cheese a quick blend again on high for about 15 seconds.
Reserve ½ cup of cheese sauce and add the rest to the pasta mixture.
Stir to combine.
Transfer the pasta mixture to the casserole dish.
Top with the reserved cheese sauce and spread around.
Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
Serve alone or enjoy with a side of your favorite bread.
Storing and reheating leftovers
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
As it sits, the pasta will absorb the cheese sauce and tomato sauce. Therefore, you may need to mix in some additional tomato sauce when reheating leftovers.
To reheat, microwave individual portions in a covered microwave-safe dish in 30-second intervals.
You might also enjoy:
Hall Family Roman Holiday Casserole with Lentils
FOR THE VEGAN CHEESE SAUCE
- 1 ¾ cup peeled and chopped yellow or gold potatoes (chopped into small pieces of similar size)
- 1 cup peeled and diced carrots
- ½ cup filtered water
- ½ cup nutritional yeast
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2 tsp fine sea salt or kosher salt
- ¼ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp onion powder
- ⅛ tsp turmeric
FOR THE CASSEROLE
- 12 oz. gluten-free elbow macaroni (I used Jovial brand brown rice elbows; if you are not gluten-free you can use traditional elbow pasta)
- ¾ cup low sodium vegetable broth
- 3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
- 3 medium ribs celery, diced
- 1 small yellow onion, peeled and diced
- fine sea salt or kosher salt, to taste
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 (15 oz) can brown or green lentils, drained and rinsed (Alternatively, you can use a 16 oz. bag of plain pre-cooked brown or green lentils, drained and rinsed)
- 2 (14.5 oz) cans stewed tomatoes (I used Muir Glen; be sure to use the original blend with onion or garlic, celery and bell pepper)
- 1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
FOR THE VEGAN CHEESE SAUCE
- Add potatoes and carrots to a 2-qt. pot. Cover with water, and bring to a boil and cook until tender (approximately 10-12 minutes).
- While the potatoes and carrots are cooking, add nutritional yeast, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, turmeric, olive oil, lemon juice and water to a high-powered blender.
- Blend on high, until the ingredients are well-incorporated and the sauce is smooth and creamy, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. Keep in the blender until ready to use.
FOR THE CASSEROLE
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Par-cook the pasta in a 5- or 6-qt. pot for *4 minutes less than the package directs.
- While the pasta is cooking, warm vegetable broth in a 12-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, celery and onion. Season with salt and pepper to taste and saute until tender and most or all of the liquid has dissipated, stirring frequently (approximately 10-12 minutes). Remove from the heat and stir in the lentils. Set aside until ready to use.
- When the pasta is done, drain in a colander. While the pasta is draining, add the stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce to the pot. Stir to combine.
- Use 1 cup of the stewed tomato/tomato sauce mixture to line the bottom of a 9" x 13" casserole dish.
- Add the lentil and veggie mixture to the pot and stir to combine. Then, stir in the pasta.
- Give the cheese a quick blend again on high for about 15 seconds. Reserve ½ cup of cheese sauce and add the rest to the pasta mixture. Stir to combine.
- Transfer the pasta mixture to the casserole dish. Top with the reserved cheese sauce and spread around. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.
(Please refer to the post above for instructional photographs for this recipe)
This post originally appeared on Watch Learn Eat on July 25, 2018. It has been republished to reflect both recipe and photo revisions. Changes to the story were also made.
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