What if I told you that a simple, hearty meal could be yours in 30-ish minutes and using only 4 ingredients? You’d be all over that bidness, right? What if I also told you that this dinner creation is as customizable as you can imagine, allowing for creativity, taste preferences, and inventive food adventures to your heart’s content?
If your response is a Howard Dean-style “Yeeeeah!” then you’ve come to the right blog.
To create a simple, delicious Baked Pasta, you only need four types of ingredients. Psst — here’s the big secret: these are merely “categories” that are interchangeable, expandable and easy to build upon for future dishes. Mix and match these options in any combination for a great meal.
- Pasta: I like ziti, rigatoni, cavatappi, shells, and any other small pasta (heck, even farfalle — bow ties — can be great). Hollow or not, shorter pastas work best here. However, baked linguini, spaghetti, or other longer pastas could definitely still work. Whole wheat or whole grain pastas are also a great way to add extra nutrition.
- Sauce: Basic tomato, pesto (in about a million varieties; see this post for a few ideas), bechamel, cheese sauce, meat sauce, vegetable marinara, even vodka sauce (essentially tomato sauce + cream + vodka that has cooked down a bit) are all molto bene.
- Cheese: Mozzarella is, and forever will be, a classic choice. It’s gooey, mild and it melts beautifully. I’d also venture out a bit to include parmesan, romano, goat cheese, ricotta, mascarpone, fontina, emmental, or any other cheese that purportedly melts well. With the right combination, cheddar can be a piquant, unexpected addition. Go crazy!
- Protein or Other Mix-Ins: Depending on the preferences of your crowd and your previous choices (specifically sauce & cheese), this is your opportunity to, as Strong Bad would say, take this dish to the CrazyGoNuts level. If you jump beyond the limit of “four ingredients” here in terms of numbers, the possibilities are kind of endless. With pesto, try shrimp, pine nuts, and cherry tomatoes; with tomato sauce, add some sauteed peppers, mushrooms & diced chicken breast for a pseudo-Cacciatore; with bechamel, experiment with ham, caramelized onions, diced butternut squash and chopped fresh sage.
There you have it! Using these four ingredient categories, baked pasta is yours for the taking (and eating). From start to finish (counting water boiling time for your pasta), you should have dinner on the table in about 45 minutes max. (Widely adjustable depending on ingredient types, how quickly your stove heats, etc.) Not bad for a homemade Italian Nonna-style feast!
One of my favorite, easy-peasy baked pastas is a hallmark to my community-living days in a service program. One of my lovely roommates (who, as a vegetarian, nobly added animal-based protein to half of the meal) would frequently up this Baked Pizza-Pasta for community dinners. We all loved it, and leftovers were a rare (and often nonexistent) commodity. In terms of the four-ingredient fix, the choices were often:
- Ziti (pasta)
- Marinara (sauce)
- Mozzarella & parmesan (cheese)
- Pepperoni (protein & other mix-ins)
Enjoy, and happy eating!
Baked Pizza-Pasta — serves 4-6; easily doubled (or, heck, tripled if you’ve got a large crowd coming over)
- 1 lb box ziti, rigatoni, or other short-cut pasta of your choice
- 1 32-oz jar pre-made marinara sauce, or 1 batch homemade marinara
- 1 to 2 cups pre-shredded part-skim mozzarella (this can be as gooey or healthy as you like), plus parmesan for serving
- 1 pkg pepperoni (regular or soy/veggie, if you’re a vegetarian)
Here’s what you do:
- Heat oven to 350°F. Spray a 13″x9″ baking dish (nonstick, ceramic or glass are all fine) with Pam, or lightly grease with olive oil.
- Cook pasta according to package directions; when finished, drain and rinse lightly, then pour into casserole dish.
- When pasta is in baking dish, stir in at least 1 cup of marinara sauce. Add more or less, depending on how saucy you like your pasta. (Tee hee. “Saucy.”) Add pepperoni and cheese in amount preferred; stir thoroughly to incorporate ingredients. Add a top layer of lightly sprinkled cheese and a few additional pepperoni.
- Tightly cover with foil and bake for 15-20 minutes. Uncover, then bake for an additional 5-7 minutes (ish; this is flexible), or until cheese is fully melted to your liking.
- Tip: For extra melted-cheesy-crispiness, broil the baked pasta during those final minutes to ensure a browned and bubbly topping.
- Serve with salad, hearty Italian bread, and good wine. (“Good” = “wine you like to drink.”)
Are you folks fans of baked pastas? Do you ever make large batches and save the leftovers, or do you like your plates and casserole dishes clean? (As much as I try to do the former, my appetite often gets the better of me!) What are your favorite sauce-cheese-pasta-protein combinations?