Baked Pasta Love

By popular demand…

Yes, pasta is popular. Everybody loves a pasta dish in some form, whether covered with a simple tomato sauce, a meaty Bolognese…how about some seafood on your noodles? The variations are endless.

Today we are going to dish up a little baked pasta. This recipe comes from Nick Stellino, whom I have discussed in the past. His cookbooks are highly recommended. I have tweaked the recipe a bit, so give it a try and see what you think…

  • 1 cup Italian style breadcrumbs
  • 1 lb small zucchini, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large sweet onion, chopped
  • celery (1 large or 2 small) chopped
  • carrot (1 large or 2 small) peeled and chopped
  • 4 ounces pancetta, cut into chunks or bacon, cut into pieces
  • 4-6 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 6 cloves garlic, thickly sliced (optional)
  • 1 lb Italian sausage
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 1/2 cups tomato sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups beef stock
  • 1 lb rigatoni or ziti pasta
  • 4 ounces smoked mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated romano cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Generously butter or spray a 9x12-inch casserole pan and coat with half the bread crumbs.

Place the zucchini in a colander and sprinkle with the salt. Cover with a plate (lightly press down on the zucchini), weighted down with a heavy object. The salt will draw the liquid from the zucchini; the plate will help squeeze it out. Allow the zucchini to sit for about 30 minutes.

Place the onion, celery, carrot and pancetta or bacon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture is chopped into tiny pieces.

In a large, deep sauté pan or dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté for 1 minute. Add the vegetable-pancetta mixture and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes. Add the sausage and brown, stirring to break it up further and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, until the sausage is cooked through. Add the wine, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and stock. Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. You should have a thin rather than thick pasta sauce; you want it liquid, as the mixture will eventually bake. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Set the sauce aside, and cook the pasta in the boiling water according to the package directions until almost done - Do not overcook. Pat the zucchini dry with paper towels. Heat 1 to 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil in a separate pan. Add the zucchini, and over high heat, brown on all sides for 3 to 4 minutes. Cook in two batches if necessary, adding more oil. They should be softened but not mushy. Remove and set aside.

Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Put the drained pasta back in the pot and add the reserved cooking water and half the sauce and toss well. Add the zucchini and mozzarella and stir well. Spoon the pasta mixture into the prepared casserole pan. Pour the reserved sauce over the top and sprinkle with the remaining bread crumbs and the Romano. Cover the casserole tightly with aluminum foil, and bake in the center of the oven for about 30 minutes, until heated through. Remove the foil and broil for 1 to 2 minutes to crisp the top before serving.


Followed the recipe exactly and it was fabulous. I'll be saving this one for future use. Thanks for sharing!

Glad that you enjoyed it! If you enjoy Italian food, be sure to Check out one of Nick Stellino's cookbooks as mentioned in the article. The recipes never fail to impress!