In our house, simple pasta dishes like this are a staple. It’s a go-to dinner when we’re low on ingredients, or an easy crowd-pleaser to throw together when company is coming. I always make a huge batch, even when it’s just the two of us, because we can eat it all week and never get sick of it.
Every time I make it, the recipe changes just a little. The ingredients wind up being whatever I have on hand (great for cleaning out the fridge, or when I desperately need to go shopping), all tossed together and topped with plenty of fresh mozzarella and parmesan, and baked to a bubbly golden-brown.
Because it’s so easy, you can make this dish however you want. I usually make it vegetarian, but you can just as easily add whatever meat or other protein you like. One of my favorite additions is a half pound of bacon — just cook it before-hand, then chop it up and add it to the sauce along with the pasta. The first time I threw bacon into the mix, T-Hubs couldn’t stop raving about it. What can I say, bacon makes everything better!
You can just as easily add more veggies, use different cheeses, or adjust the seasonings to taste. I’ve included a few variations in the recipe notes, but feel free to make whatever changes you like. You really can’t go wrong.
In the fall and winter, this is the perfect cozy meal to warm us up, but we enjoy it just as much in the summer when it cools down enough to turn the oven on. If you’re in a rush, the pasta and sauce can be cooked ahead of time, then baked up when you’re ready to eat.
What are your favorite go-to dinners? Let me know in the comments!
Recipe Notes: this recipe changes every time I make it, so feel free to play with the recipe according to your tastes or what you have on hand. You can swap out or add whatever veggies you like, or add some meat for a heartier meal. Bacon is one of my favorite add-ins, but ground beef, chicken, or sausage would all be great. Just cook your protein before hand, then add it to the sauce along with the pasta.
The sauce in this recipe can easily be made with stewed or canned tomatoes, or you can use whatever jarred (or homemade) tomato sauce you like. I always keep a jar of pasta sauce on hand for when I’m in a rush, and can be a great way to add a little more flavor.
As for the cheese, I always have fresh mozzarella and parmesan on hand just for this purpose, but you could easily swap some of the mozz for goat cheese, feta, or add some ricotta for a creamier dish.
For a quicker meal, the sauce and noodles can be cooked ahead of time, then stored in the fridge or freezer and baked up later — just increase the bake time to warm the dish all the way through!
Simple Baked Pasta
3 TBSP olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 large carrot, diced or cut into half-rounds
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
2 15-oz. cans crushed tomatoes (or one 24oz. jar of your favorite pasta sauce, or homemade tomato sauce)
1 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1/2 red or green bell pepper, or other vegetable, diced
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
1/4 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped
3/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
3/4 cup fresh baby spinach
pinch of red pepper flakes, optional
12-oz. fussili or penne pasta
8-oz. fresh mozzarella, chopped or shredded
1/2 cup fresh parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 450F. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat, and add the onion and carrot. Saute for 4-5 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for another 1-2 minutes, or until aromatic, stirring occasionally.
2. Add the canned tomatoes (or jarred pasta sauce), and bring to a simmer. Let cook, stirring occasionally, for 10-15 minutes. This step is only really important if you’re using canned tomatoes, but if you’re using pre-made pasta sauce or fresh stewed tomatoes you won’t need to cook it as long.
3. Add in the balsamic vinegar, bell pepper, olives, tomatoes, basil, spinach, and red pepper flakes, if using. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and remove from heat.
4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Cook the noodles for about half of the packaged directions, then drain, reserving a 1/2 cup of the pasta water (or about one ladle full).
5. Add the drained noodles to the sauce, along with 1/4 cup of the pasta water. Stir until everything is evenly coated. If the sauce is a little thick, add the remaining 1/4 cup of pasta water and stir to combine.
6. Mix half of the mozzarella into the pasta, then dump everything into a 9×12″ baking dish. Top evenly with the remaining mozzarella and shredded parmesan.
7. Bake for 5 minutes, then switch the oven to broil. Broil for 3-5 minutes, or until the top is bubbly and golden brown. Keep a close eye on it while under the broiler, because it’ll go quick!
8. Remove from the oven and serve!