If there's anything positive about the short Chicago summer melting into fall, it's that it's easier to plan meals around cheese melting into pasta.
These past few days have felt particularly autumnal, and since tonight was a lazy night in, a baked pasta dish sounded perfect. I basically took the idea of baked ziti - which I used to eat, in a very rudimentary form, in college, all the time - and twisted it a little bit.
Using whole wheat pasta and adding mushrooms boosts the nutrition (as does serving it with a big green salad, which I did), and, while tons of melty cheese isn't exactly health food, it does add protein (and, obviously, it's ridiculously delicious).
This dish takes awhile to make, especially if you make the sauce from scratch, but on a Sunday, when you have plenty of time, it's totally worth it. It was soooo delicious. Ross, against his better judgment, ate two huge platefuls, then moaned in pain afterward. Still - totally worth it.
Happy Fall, everyone!
2 T. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 rib celery, diced
salt and pepper
red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large can whole fire-roasted tomatoes and all juices
fresh chopped parsley
fresh chopped basil
sprinkle dried oregano
~1/3 cup half and half
1 T. olive oil
1 T. butter
1 container baby bella (cremini) mushrooms, sliced
~1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
~10 oz. whole wheat (or regular) rigatoni
1 baseball-sized ball mozzarella, torn into large pieces
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt, red pepper flakes, and dried oregano for sprinkling on top
Make the tomato sauce [note: if you're in a hurry, you could skip this and use any jarred marinara sauce you like]: heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium high heat. Cook the onions, carrots, and celery until browning in some places. Season with salt and pepper and red pepper flakes. Stir in the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the tomatoes and chopped fresh herbs and oregano. Stir, cover, and turn the heat down to medium low. Cook, breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon every now and again, until tomatoes have broken down and sauce has reduced a little. Use an immersion blender to puree the sauce (or skip this). Turn off the heat and stir in the half and half. Taste and adjust seasoning. Cover and set aside, off the heat.
Boil the noodles until slightly less cooked than al dente (they'll continue to cook while baking). Meanwhile, heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and oil. When the butter is melted, add the mushrooms, and allow to cook without stirring or shaking the pan for about 5 minutes. Then stir and continue to cook for a few more minutes, until some of their water has cooked off. Pour in the balsamic and stir until it evaporates a bit. Add salt and pepper and continue to cook until many of the mushrooms have dark edges. Remove from heat and stir into the marinara sauce.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. When the noodles are done, stir them into the pot with the marinara and mushrooms. Pour the mixture into a casserole dish. Top with the mozzarella and parmesan. Sprinkle a little salt, red pepper flakes, and oregano over the top. Bake for about 30 minutes, until edges look bubbly. Switch the oven mode to broil and cook for another few minutes, until the cheese has a lot of brown crispy spots. Serve and enjoy!