When it comes to cooking Pasta, most prefer to cook the pasta separately, then make a sauce on the side, and pour it on the top before serving. While this seems to be the quickest way to enjoy Pasta on a week night, its different for our house over the weekends. Baked Pasta has a charm of its own, and though a bit elaborate to prepare, it is also a more comforting and satisfying meal, just like Pizza! Plus, you can be as creative as you like – just assemble your best toppings and layer them onto the pasta, and your oven will do the rest as it works towards slowly cooking your meal, delicately infusing it with the flavors that you have added.
This weekend’s dinner was a delicious Baked Penne Pasta with loads of veggies, and a heart-warming Parmesan Basil sauce. I cooked the Penne a little, just so its nice and soft as it bakes in the sauce. I made a creamy Parmesan sauce, and added a bunch of veggies like onions, bell peppers, spinach, peas and some fresh herbs like Basil and Tarragon. Sprinkled with some 4-blend cheese on the top, it went into the oven for about 30 minutes, so when it came out, the pasta was nice and bubbly, just like a Lasagna, fully cooked so even my toddler could eat it, and filled with Italian flavors that would instantly remind you of a small cafe in Rome!
Baked Penne Pasta
Prep Time: 20 mins
Bake Time: 40 mins
2 red peppers, chopped small
4 crimini mushrooms, halved
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
6 cloves of garlic – chopped
1 cup tomatoes – chopped
1/4 cup frozen green peas – thawed
1 cup fresh spinach leaves – chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt & black pepper – to taste
1 tbsp dried Italian herb mix
1 pound penne pasta
1 cup mixed 4-cheese blend
Parmesan Basil Sauce
1/ 2 cup fresh basil – chopped
1 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp dried basil flakes and tarragon
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
On a baking sheet, toss all the chopped veggies and garlic with olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and dried herbs. Roast until tender, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, take another 1 tbsp olive oil in a pan, add the grated parmesan cheese, and roast. Over low heat, slowly add the milk as you stir continuously. Add the salt and pepper, along with basil and dried herbs to make a creamy sauce.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook for about 10 minutes. Since you will be cooking the pasta a second time in the oven, you want to make sure the inside is still hard. Drain in a colander and se aside.
In a large bowl, toss the drained pasta with the roasted vegetables, and half of the prepared sauce. Combine to coat evenly.
Pour the pasta into a greased 9 by 13-inch pan. Top with the remaining Parmesan sauce. Sprinkle the mixed cheese on the top. Bake in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, until top is golden and cheese melts.
Serve the pasta immediately, as it can get dry if it sits for a longer time. Also, as Penne is not too long or flat, it’ll be hard to cut this into clean portions, so you might have to dump some onto serving plates. Or you could bake these into individual ramekins, if you want an elegant presentation. But don’t worry, even if it looks a bit sloppy, the taste will all bu make up for lack of presentation!
It is very filling and packed with nutrition, thanks to the cheese and veggies. What’s more, even my 2-year old enjoyed it, as its easy to pick up Penne with a fork! Its a great recipe, and I’ll be making it often. Its a nice potluck idea too, and I hope you enjoy it with your friends and family.