Veggie Baked Harissa Pasta
You are in for a treat if you have never tried baked pasta before. Its easy to make ahead, store in the fridge or freeze it for several days and when you are ready for a party or a date night, simple put the assembled pasta dish in the oven and it still tastes amazing and super delicious as the fresh baked pasta dish. When I made this dish, I was just questioning myself- why I didn't try this dish before? Trust me, y'all got to try baked pasta and thank me later. Its perfect for a huge group of people if you are entertaining in summers, pair with my fudgy chocolate brownies as a dessert and mocktails for drinks and you are going to be known as the best hostess in your group. The ingredients are simple for this recipe and the assembling of the pasta dish is quick too. Saves you so much time for those busy days when you want something warm and save money from ordering outside food. Add any veggies you like in your pasta or crumbled bacon if you are a meat lover, you can never go wrong with this dish. I used Harissa paste to give my pasta a spicy kick. Originally from Tunisia, harissa is a chili sauce or paste typically made of dry red chilis, garlic, citrus, extra virgin olive oil and a few warm spices including cumin, coriander and caraway seeds. I got mine from Trader Joe's but you can use any chili paste or chili powder to make spicy pasta. Pairs really well with chocolate fudgy brownies for desserts later. Ingredients (Serves 4) 1/2 package (around 8-10 oz) uncooked pasta (such as penne, ziti, rotini or rigatoni) 4 cups marinara sauce (homemade or purchased)- This amounts to one whole bottle of purchased marinara/pasta sauce. I used the one I get in bulk from costco. 1 cup grated Parmesan or sharp Cheddar cheese 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (8 oz)/ You can use parmesan or cheddar cheese completely if you don't have mozzarella. 2 tbsp Harissa Paste 2 tbsp sun-dried tomatoes 1/2 cup canned black olives sliced 2 cups spinach 1/4 cup basil- I used fresh tulsi from my backyard and it gave a nice flavor to my pasta 1 cup chopped onions- roughly 1 medium sized onion 2 tbsp fresh sliced garlic (roughly 5 to 6 cloves of garlic) or 1 tbsp garlic powder Optional- 1 cup slices bell peppers- you can mix the green, red and yellow to add color to your pasta 2 tbsp olive oil 1 tbsp brown sugar- optional if your store bought pasta sauce is too tangy like mine was to balance the taste. Instructions Cook Pasta Heat a large pot of salted water (for every 2 quarts of water, one tablespoon of salt) to a strong boil. Make sure the water is salty. Add the pasta and cook uncovered, until the pasta is al dente—edible but still a little firm to the bite. Drain the pasta through a colander. Toss with a little olive oil so the pasta does not stick together while you make the sauce. Get the Sauce ready While your pasta is boiling, in another pan, add olive oil and sauté onions for 5 minutes until golden brown. Add garlic and pasta sauce. Add bell peppers if you are using or any other veggies you like in your pasta. Cook for another 10-15 minutes until the sauce thickens. Add harissa paste and sun dried tomatoes and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Mix the paste well with the pasta sauce. After the sauce is done, taste the sauce, and make any changes needed. I needed to add some sugar as my pasta sauce was too tangy for my taste. Once the sauce is done, assemble the sauce, drained pasta, sliced olives, spinach and grated cheese. Assembling Layer in an oven dish or an oven safe skillet like I used in the picture above. In the video, I used an oven safe glass dish. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease your oven dish with olive oil. Add half of the pasta sauce. Then add cooked pasta. Sprinkle half of the grated parmesan or sharp cheddar cheese. Add remaining pasta sauce, spinach, olives, basil, and rest of the shredded cheese. At this point, you can cover and freeze the oven dish for later use. Bake uncovered for 35-40 minutes until the cheese starts bubbling. Let it cool for 5-10 minutes and serve warm. NOTES Can I use uncooked pasta in this bake? We don't recommend using uncooked pasta because it can soak up too much liquid, resulting in a dry pasta bake. Should I cover pasta when baking? The sauce and tomatoes in this Italian recipe provide enough moisture to bake it uncovered. Can I prep and freeze this recipe? Yes, unbaked Italian pasta bake freezes very well! Just cover tightly with plastic wrap, then wrap tightly with foil. When ready to bake, remove from the freezer 24 hours ahead of time and place in the refrigerator. Bring to room temp—and remove plastic wrap and foil—before baking. How much Pasta do I need to use? If you are using the whole 16 oz pasta box, you will need double the amount of pasta sauce that is equal to 2 whole bottles of pasta and a larger oven dish to bake. So I prefer to boil half the amount of pasta from the packet and it works perfectly well with my 1 bottle of pasta sauce. You can always double the amount if you are expecting a large party. Or you can boil all the pasta in a packet and use accordingly while assembling and store the rest of the boiled pasta for later use. Veggie Substitutions Here’s a list of other veggies you can use: Cubed zucchini or summer squash. Spinach, kale, or collard greens. Cubed eggplant. Cauliflower florets. Winter squash like butternut squash — This will take a bit more time to cook.