Baked pasta is a low-prep dish, which makes it perfect for a busy weeknight when you just don't have the time to spend an hour or two chopping produce and cooking over a hot stove. But to get the perfect, saucy, delicious baked pasta dish without having to cook the pasta first, you have to follow one key trick.
The secret is good ole' water! Make sure you add enough after you pile the other ingredients in so that the pasta, veggies and meat all cook into a cheesy, tasty mess. You get something similar to lasagna without all the work. This dish does take about an hour to bake, but that's time you can be doing other things around the house rather than cooking. You only need a couple of ingredients:
- Pasta: Bigger is better (rigatoni, shells) since it will stand up to the sauce, but if all you have is penne, that will do.
- Veggies: Whatever you have in your fridge will work. Some that will taste particularly good include zucchini, carrots, onions and mushrooms.
- Marinara: A flavorful tomato sauce brings everything together. Spice up a store bought jar of sauce with fresh herbs or garlic.
- Meat (optional): Sliced sausages or meatballs are both good options. Don't make (or buy) ones that are too large or they will be tough to eat with everything else and may not cook as evenly.
- Cheese (optional): A soft cheese like mozzarella or ricotta will melt well in this dish.
Once you've layered everything into the baking dish, pour two to three cups of water in and cover with foil. Bake for an hour and sprinkle with fresh herbs or toasted breadcrumbs for a tasty topping.