even in the heat of summer, a steaming dish of pasta with fresh tomato sauce, vibrant veggies, and gooey mozzarella is never out of place. for me, the standard is set by pizzeria da paolo, an amazing pizzeria and italian restaurant in geneva, switzerland, where i lived for 2 years. their penne alla siciliana–penne, tomato sauce, sliced eggplants, and mozzarella, baked to bubbly perfection–is simple, fresh, hearty, and comforting all at the same time.
since beautiful tomatoes and eggplants abound at the farmer’s market this time of year, i decided the time was right for a baked pasta dish this week. first i made a big batch of homemade tomato sauce with fresh yellow and red tomatoes from old athens farm in vermont. i like to use the basic tomato sauce recipe from mario batali’s cookbook, molto italiano. it’s straightforward and makes a delicious sauce. batali’s recipe calls for canned tomatoes, which are almost always best because of their consistent quality, except at the peak of summer when the fresh ones are so delicious. keep in mind that when using fresh tomatoes, it’s important to seed them so you don’t end up with lots of seeds in the sauce, and it may take a bit more reducing to get rid of the extra liquid. but it’s worth it in the long run.
then i roasted some chopped eggplant, zucchini, and cauliflower in order to pack my pasta with vegetable goodness. to roast the vegetables, cut them into bite-size pieces or slices, coat with olive oil, and spread onto a baking sheet in a single layer. roast at 400°f for about 30 minutes, flipping once, or until the vegetables are lightly browned and soft. next, cook your pasta (fusilli, penne, or smalls shells work well) for 2 minutes less than the usual cooking time. now all your ingredients will be ready for assembly…
first, take a large casserole dish and spread a third of the tomato sauce in the bottom of the dish. then add half the pasta, half the vegetables, another third of the tomato sauce, some optional fresh basil or other herbs, and half your mozzarella. start again with the remaining pasta, vegetables, tomato sauce, basil/herbs, and mozzarella. bake the whole dish at 400°f for 15 minutes, or until the dish is heated through and the mozzarella is fully melted.
this delicious, comforting dish is easy to put together and easy to personalize. you can use any vegetables you have on hand, or just stick to tomato sauce, pasta, and cheese. either way you are in for a treat that makes great leftovers.