Vegetable baked pasta loaded with veggies, pockets of ricotta cheese, and topped with melty mozzarella. The vegetables you use can be adapted based on seasonality, check our article above for more suggestions. For a vegan variation, leave out the ricotta and mozzarella and instead stir a couple of tablespoons of nutritional yeast into the marinara sauce.
1 pound dried penne, rigatoni, or ziti pasta
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, about 6 ounces
2 small bell peppers, about 8 ounces
8 ounces mushrooms (1 1/4 cups sliced)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds or ground fennel, see notes
3 cups marinara sauce or use 1 (28-ounce) jar store-bought sauce
Handful of fresh basil leaves, torn or coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons ricotta cheese
2 cups coarsely shredded mozzarella, fontina cheese, or use an Italian blend
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have an oven-safe 12-inch deep skillet, you can cook the veggies and bake the pasta in it. If you do not, prepare a 3-quart baking dish by lightly greasing with olive oil.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and then cook the pasta. Check the package for cook time, but cook the pasta two minutes less than what is recommend on the box (it will continue to cook in the oven). Before draining the pasta, reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
While the pasta cooks, prepare the vegetables. Slice the onions and bell peppers into 1/4-inch thick slices.
Using a damp paper towel, brush all dirt from mushrooms. Cut away and discard any hard stems. Chop into 1/4-inch slices or, if there are larger mushrooms like portobello, cut into 1/4-inch cubes.
Heat a wide skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil then add the mushrooms, in one layer, and cook until browned on one side, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir then add the onions and peppers. Cook another 3 to 5 minutes or until the veggies are starting to soften and have some browned edges. Season to taste with salt and black pepper (I usually add 1/4 teaspoon of each).
Stir the fennel, marinara sauce, and basil into the vegetables. If your skillet is large enough, toss in the pasta and if the mixture seems dry, add a splash of the reserved pasta water. If the skillet is too small, combine the sauce and pasta in a bowl. Adjust with pasta water, and then add to a baking dish.
Taste the pasta and adjust with more salt and pepper. Tuck spoonfuls of ricotta around the pasta, and then top with the mozzarella cheese. Bake the pasta, uncovered, until the cheese melts and is bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes.