Baked pasta dishes are really enticing for us. We love how the sauce wraps around all of the pasta and how the cheese melts and gets stringy and a little brown on top. Mmmmm.
This is a basic baked pasta dish that requires only a few ingredients. When we first tried it, we felt that the flavor was too mild for us, so I jazzed it up by doubling the garlic and adding a lot more basil than originally called for. You can make this in the summer or winter, although I like it in the summer because I can use lots of fresh basil from my garden.
[Updated September 30, 2013.]
BAKED PENNE WITH TOMATOES AND MOZZARELLA
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.
8-quart pot with lid
12-inch nonstick pan
9×13 dish, coated with nonstick spray
1 tablespoon of olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
20 leaves of fresh basil, minced
1/4 teaspoon sugar
16 ounces penne, ziti, or other tube-shaped pasta
8 ounces mozzarella, shredded
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in the 8-quart pot. Preheat the oven to 400° F.
2. Add the olive oil to the nonstick pan and saute garlic for about 2 minutes, until soft and fragrant. Add the tomatoes and juices. Stir and bring to a simmer over low heat until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes. Stir in the basil, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and turn off the heat.
3. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and the pasta to the boiling water. Bring back to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook just until the pasta starts to get tender, but is still a little firm, not quite al dente. If you cook the pasta too long, it will be mushy after baking.
4. Set aside 1/2 cup of the pasta water and drain the rest. Return the pasta to the pot and add the tomato sauce. Stir together well. Add as much of the reserved pasta water as is needed to thin the sauce a bit.
5. Build the dish in layers. Start with half of the pasta and sauce to the bottom of the pan, then sprinkle half the cheeses on top. Layer on the rest of the pasta and sauce, and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.
6. Bake about 20 minutes, or until the cheese turns golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes, then serve.
Make your own sauce with fresh tomatoes. Stir in 2 quarts diced fresh Roma or San Marzano tomatoes, and cook until the tomatoes have broken down and the sauce reduces by one third, about 30 minutes. Puree the sauce with an immersion blender, then add the basil, sugar, and salt.