I never understood how difficult it could be to make a family meal that everyone would actually eat until I had kids. Luckily, this tomato basil baked pasta recipe is one that gets eaten without complaint!
Except this one time. The time I made the recipe the exact same way I’ve made it dozens of times and decided to add ham. Oh.boy. That was not a good idea -according to my middle son.
“But I’ve made it juuuuuusssstt like this all the other times!” I exclaimed. “Yes, but the other times you made it plain and today you added ham. I do not like ham in my dinner” he replied. Luckyyyyy meeee!
So what did I do? The same thing any other sane parent would do: pick out the ham pieces and say “see? no ham!” and move on. Clearly, we had a difference of opinion because now apparently the food tasted different than the other dozen times I’ve made this pasta.
Speaking of this recipe, it’s delicious. My daughter says it tastes just like pizza and she “almost doesn’t mind knowing there is green stuff (pesto) in there”. When I make a big pan for the family I make it with gluten free pasta so everyone can enjoy it and I don’t have to cook two different meals. Whether you need to make this recipe gluten free or not, it will be a winner for sure.
One of the thing I love about this recipe is that you get hat same au gratin feel like traditional baked pasta at a fraction of the time. Everything is assembled outside of the oven and essentially you are just melting the cheese under the broiler. Long gone are the days of dry and overcooked baked pasta dishes. This is a delicious and creamy dish that is sure to win over a crowd. The ham, of course, is optional.
- 1 pound Fusilli pasta (or your favorite)
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 large cloves garlic, chopped
- ½ small onion, chopped
- 1½ cups cubed ham (optional)
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed Italian tomatoes
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup store bought basil pesto sauce
- 1 cup ricotta cheese
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt the water. Add pasta and cook the pasta to al dente doneness which means that the pasta will still have a bite to it or be a little chewy. I usually shave a minute or so off the boxed directions.
- Preheat a deep, big skillet or a medium sauce pot over medium heat. Add extra-virgin olive oil to the pan, add garlic, onions, and cook, stirring a lot, for 5 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the ham (optional) and tomatoes to the onions and stir. When the tomatoes come to a bubble, reduce the heat to low.
- Preheat your broiler to high and place the oven rack in the center of the oven.
- Drain pasta and transfer it to a 9x13 casserole dish. Top with pesto sauce, ricotta cheese and Parmesan cheese. Stir carefully and coat the hot pasta with the pesto and cheeses. Pour the hot tomato and basil sauce over the pasta, as much as you like. You can always serve a little extra at the table, to pass around or use it for personal pizzas.
- Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the pasta and broil it for 2-3 minutes, until the mozzarella cheese has melted. Remove from oven and serve immediately.
Recipe slightly adapted from Rachel Ray.