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.
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
2–3 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.
Keywords: baked pasta, penne pasta, creamy pasta, creamy penne, tomato sauce, cheesy pasta, vegetarian pasta