Thursday, July 19, 2012

Comfort Food: No-Boil Tomato Pasta Bake

A good meal is one of the best ways to combat my depression. My grandma made this recipe a few years ago, and while not everyone was a huge fan, I fell in love with it. Pasta is one of my biggest weaknesses, even moreso since I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in March. This recipe is originally from Martha Stewart and can be found here. The version below is how I usually make it, which has worked out well for me and my best friend. I don't have any pictures of my own, but you can see some on the original post if you want to know how delicious it looks. This isn't a quick dinner, but it's so worth the wait.

No-Boil Tomato Pasta Bake with Parmesan (or any cheese really!)
Serves: roughly 4-6 depending on portion sizes and how hungry you are (I could and have eaten the whole pan)
Prep: 20-25 minutes
Bake: 60 minutes
Total Time: 80-85 minutes (so worth it!)

3/4 c. extra virgin olive oil -- this is on the high end. If you don't like a lot of oil, feel free to cut some out
1 lb (1 box) penne pasta -- feel free to substitute with a similar pasta such as rigatoni, mostaccioli, ziti, etc.
Two (2) 28 oz. cans of crushed whole tomatoes 
Salt and pepper to taste
Cheese -- original recipe calls for freshly grated parmesan, but I use the stuff from the bag. 5 or 6 Italian cheese blend works great. It melts so well and tastes amazing.

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Empty the box of pasta into a decent size bowl and add the oil. Stir it up until all the pasta has been well coated. I usually use my hands for this, and it can get pretty messy which on its own is kinda fun. Let this stand for 20 minutes.
2. After the 20 minutes has passed, empty the bowl of oily pasta into a baking or casserole dish. I usually just use a 13x9 pan. If you want, spray the pan with Pam or another no-stick spray (olive oil flavored works great here) before putting the pasta in. 
3. Empty both 28 oz cans of crushed tomatoes into the pan with the pasta. Stir it in so that it's evenly mixed up. Add the salt and the pepper as well. Cover the pan with aluminum foil. If you're using store brand foil, you might want to double up. Also, this is not optional! If you cook without foil, it will not cook properly and you'll end up with some crunchy pasta.
4. The original recipe says to stir every 5 minutes, but I've never done this. You'll want to stir it at least once after 30 minutes or twice after 20 and 40 minutes. You can go the whole 60 minutes without stirring, but there might end up being a few crunchy bits. You can really decide when and how much to stir, so just use this step as a general guideline.
5. After an hour in the oven, this delicious dish is nearly ready to devour. Take it out and remove the foil. Try not to faint from how good it smells. Add the cheese (as much as you want) and stir it in. It should melt fast. If you're not into super cheesy pasta, feel free to just use some grated parmesan (or none at all!) Serve immediately and make sure to refrigerate your leftovers, if there are any. This is a dish that tastes just as good if not better the next day. Bon appetit!

Alternate Version 1: Turn this into a truly baked pasta dish by adding the cheese to the top before it's done baking, after about 40-50 minutes of cooking depending on how baked you want it.
Alternate Version 2: This is a tip from my best friend. Adding meat such as ground beef or sausage to this dish can make it even more amazing. If you're a meat lover, this would be a great addition.

This dish has been one of my favorites since I first tried it. If you liked it or have any suggestions, let me know! I'll try to add pictures as soon as I make it again.

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