Vegetarian Baked Penne

The honey and I went to a great little Italian restaurant for date night over the weekend. He ordered Baked Ziti with a Bolognese sauce, and cooped up inside today listening to the rain pitter-pattering all afternoon, I was inspired to create a vegetarian version for us at home.

Tomato season may have ended here – though my parents back in California are lucky enough to still be harvesting homegrown little beauties – but this recipe packs a flavorful punch even while substituting a store-bought tomato sauce for homemade. This is a cozy, drizzly-evening sort of meal, best served with fresh bread, good company, and a bottle – or two – of wine.

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Vegetarian Baked Penne



1 lb whole wheat penne pasta
1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
1 lb fresh tomatoes, diced¹
1 Tbsp fresh garlic, minced
1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried oregano
24 oz tomato sauce²
23 Tbsp good balsamic vinegar
8 oz mascarpone cheese³,
optional: 1 Tbsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste


Preheat the oven to 350℉. Drizzle a 9×13-inch baking dish with just enough olive oil to coat the bottom. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook al dente, according to package directions, usually about 8-12 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and bell pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.

Add the fresh tomatoes, garlic, thyme, and oregano to the pan, and stir to combine. Cook until the tomatoes begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to low, and add the tomato sauce, balsamic vinegar, mascarpone cheese, and red pepper flakes, if using. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Let simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cheese has fully melted, about 15 minutes.

Drain the pasta and add to the sauce. Stir to combine. Season again, if needed. Scoop the pasta into the prepared baking dish, and spread into an even layer. Top with the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly, and the pasta is hot. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for a few minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh basil and a sprinkling of extra parmesan. Serve immediately. Enjoy!


¹ Any variety of tomato will do, just look for the most flavorful ones you can find!
² Look for plain tomato sauce that doesn’t have added salt or sugar.
³ Mascarpone cheese is an Italian cream cheese, and can be found in the deli section of most well-stocked grocery stores. You can also substitute regular brick cream cheese for the mascarpone.

  • Category: Dinner, Pasta
  • Method: Baking, Saute
  • Cuisine: Italian, American

Keywords: baked pasta, penne pasta, creamy pasta, creamy penne, tomato sauce, cheesy pasta, vegetarian pasta


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  1. 7.20.20
    Gavin said:

    This was so good! I’m not vegetarian and I absolutely loved it. My first pasta meal. My wife said that in the future, if she were to make it for me, she could put a nice steak next to it. I said, why? I don’t feel like it’s missing anything!

  2. 3.7.18
    NIck Davis said:

    Thank you so much for not having a MASSIVE story and million photos. Was pleased to see the recipe near the top. You win, will definitely make this tonight!

  3. 1.23.16
    Priya said:

    Totally yummy. I’m a vegetarian and don’t find much on the net that we all like. This one hit the spot! Thanks!

    • 1.24.16
      Laura said:

      So glad everyone enjoyed the pasta! Thanks, Priya!

  4. 4.18.14
    Nichole Gerhardt said:

    This was great! I made it for my meat eating husband and vegetarian brother and both loved it! I’ll definitely be making this again! Delicious! Thanks!

  5. 11.20.13
    Arielle said:

    Looks delicious! Silly question but by ‘tomato sauce’ do you mean the plain Tomato sauce that comes in a can or the jarred sauces like Classico brand marinara type? I’m adding this recipe to my must try list! 🙂

    • 12.2.13
      Laura said:

      Thanks, Arielle! Sorry for the confusion! I meant seasoned tomato sauces, either homemade or store-bought brands such as Classico in your favorite flavor (marinara, olive oil and garlic, etc. all work nicely). Let me know how you like it!

  6. 3.10.13
    Annie said:

    Loved this, making it again only this time cuttin it in half!

    • 3.11.13
      Laura said:

      Thanks Annie! It’s one of our favorites, and it does make a lot!

  7. 10.3.12
    Heather said:

    I made this tonight and thought it was delicious! Thanks!

    • 10.4.12
      Laura said:

      I’m so glad you liked it!

  8. 10.2.12
    Sarah said:

    I love that you quoted Lorie Colwin on this. This recipe looks both extraordinary + simple — a rare and perfect combination! It would be a perfect contribution to our Shine Supper Club. Hope you’ll join us! (More info:

    • 10.4.12
      Laura said:

      I just love that quote… and thank you!

  9. 10.2.12
    Cherine said:

    A wonderful pasta dish!

Hi! I'm Laura, the food-obsessed cook, writer, and photographer behind Fork Knife Swoon, where you'll find mostly sweet, seasonal recipes and stories from my Northern Virginia kitchen.

All photography and content copyright Laura Bolton ©2021.