This seems to be a very popular American take on pasta baked in the oven, although it’s not something that was ever made in my family. It has a lot of resemblances to lasagne, but it’s simpler, both in the amount of effort required to assemble it, and in the flavours of the finished product. I have to admit I thought it was quite pleasant, but maybe a tad dull. But things that are comfort foods often are a little plain, I think; they’re comfort foods because they are childhood foods.
Most instructions for this recipe have you cooking the pasta completely before baking. Even at cooking for half the time before baking, I found the pasta got a little bit too soft. I wrote up the instructions suggesting to cook them for even less time, but now I’m wondering if I make this again if I shouldn’t add just a bit more sauce and put the pasta in raw.
And yes, there’s a lot of tomato sauce already and I’ve broken it down as I have because it goes into the casserole in stages.
4 servings1 hour 15 minutes – 40 minutes prep time
Pre-Cook the Pasta & Get Started:1 medium onion3 or 4 cloves of garlic1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon saltfreshly ground black pepper to taste1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed1 1/2 teaspoons rubbed oregano1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo or similar pepper
340 grams (12 ounces) penne OR zitiPut a pot of water on to boil (salted as usual) for the pasta. Peel and chop the onion finely. Peel and mince the garlic. Heat the oil in a skillet and cook the onion over medium heat until softened and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Stir regularly. When the onion and garlic are done, transfer them to a mixing bowl. Add the seasonings to them.
When the water boils, add the pasta and cook for HALF (or even less) of the time listed on the package; generally this will be for 5 or 6 minutes, but 3 or 4 may be even better. Drain the pasta, and if you are not ready to proceed, rinse it in cold water and drain well again.
Assemble the Casserole & Bake It:150 grams (5 ounces) mozzarella cheese2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1/2 cup tomato sauce 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce 125 grams ricotta cheese1 cup tomato sauce
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grate or dice the mozzarella and grate the Parmesan.
Put 1/2 cup of tomato sauce into an 8″ x 10″ (2 quart) baking (lasagne) pan, and spread it evenly over the bottom. Spread half the prepared pasta over it. Mix 1 1/2 cups of sauce and 1/3 of the ricotta cheese into the onions and spices. Top the pasta in the pan with half of this mixture.
Dot half the remaining ricotta over the casserole, and sprinkle half the mozzarella over it. Top with the remaining pasta, the remaining mixed sauce, and the remaining ricotta and mozzarella. Press the top of the casserole gently with the back of spoon to be sure it’s reasonably level, then drizzle the remaining cup of plain tomato sauce over the casserole. Sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over it.
Bake at 375°F for 35 to 40 minutes, until the top is lightly browned, then let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Last year at this time I made Turkish Red Lentil Kofte.