Tomato and red pepper pasta bake
A cross somewhere between baked ziti and pasta alla vodka, this dish is a cinch to put together, endlessly adaptable, and incredibly comforting. Fresh fennel provides a nice depth to the dish but can be left out if you can’t find it.
Baked pastas are also perfect for dinner parties: make it ahead and pop it in the oven when your guests arrive. This pasta is the star, so pairing a simple salad and a bottle of red wine is all you need.
You'll be eating in: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Active time: 40 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
tablespoons olive oil
large onion, diced
red bell pepper, diced
bulb fennel, diced (optional)
teaspoons kosher salt
teaspoon red pepper flakes
teaspoons dried oregano
cloves garlic, minced
sprigs of thyme (optional)
(28 ounce) can tomatoes (sauce, crushed, diced, or whole peeled tomatoes all work)
pound short pasta like fusilli or penne
cup heavy cream
ounces mozzarella, shredded or torn
handful of grated parmesan
Cook the pasta
Cook 1 pound of pasta for 2 minutes less than the lowest time on the package directions. It will continue cooking when it bakes so we want it to be slightly undercooked here. Drain and rinse in cold water to stop the cooking, set aside.
Heat a large sauce pan or sauté pan over medium heat. Cook chopped onion, bell pepper and fennel in butter and olive oil. Season with about 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoon oregano and thyme sprigs if using. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute longer.
Add one (28 ounce) can tomatoes, about one can worth of water and 1 teaspoon of sugar. If using whole tomatoes crush with the back of a large spoon or spatula. Bring sauce to a simmer and let cook, stirring frequently until sauce has thickened, about 20 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning if needed.
Prepare baking dish
Preheat the oven to 375°. Remove thyme sprigs if you added them before. Mix together simmered tomato sauce, 1/2 cup cream, and cooked pasta. Dump into a 12" round or equivalent sized baking dish. Sprinkle 8 ounces mozzarella over the top. Finish with grated parm.
Bake for 25 minutes at 375° F, then broil for 3-5 minutes until the top is brown and blistered.
Print this recipe
For a smoother finish, especially if using diced or whole tomatoes, you can blend the sauce after Step 3. This is an added step but I love the texture this way.
For a faster finish, skip the mozzarella and baking step, but make sure to fully cook your pasta in Step 1.