A lot of people think of summer as the height of fresh produce, but in the Fingerlakes Autumn is truly the best season for eating! Along with all the apples our region is known for we have an abundance of fall favorites, with some stray summer crops coming in from the fields. Our crew really kicked it into high gear before the first frost and picked all the peppers they could last week.
I actually set out the make what I remember as “Pasta Primavera”, a simple marinara with any combination of veggies simmered in. Never one to use food terms lightly, I did research the term Primavera before slapping it on this dish. Literally, “first vegetables” primavera is made with a light cream sauce and lightly cooked spring vegetables. So, now primavera is on the list of things to make and we have a hearty baked vegetable pasta dish for fall.
Use this as a backdrop for any vegetables you have laying around, broccoli, mushrooms, fennel, spinach, eggplant, or arugula would all be great here. Omnivores will love adding crumbled sausage or ground beef and you can even veganize, just skip the baking and cheese. Speaking of the cheese, I went with a classic mozzarella and parm combo. Mix it up with feta, goat, fontina, or pecorino romano. Truly, use this as a roadmap to create your own dish!
Vegetable Baked Ziti (serves 4)
8 oz penne, ziti, or any tube shaped noodles
1 bell pepper
14 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 onion, diced
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
pinch of oregano & crushed red pepper
salt and pepper
1 cup grated mozzarella
1/2 cup grated parmesan
Preheat the oven to 375°F
Boil the pasta to very al dente, about 2 minutes less than the suggested cooking time. It will finish cooking in the oven. Reserve about 1/2 cup cooking water.
In a shallow, oven-proof dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until everything is soft, translucent, and starting to turn golden. Toss in the carrots and peppers, cook for an additional 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, oregano, and crushed red pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then taste and season with salt and pepper. The carrots will be a little firm, but should finish cooking in the oven. Turn off the heat and add the drained pasta to the pot. Add a spash of the pasta water and toss to combine, adding more pasta water if necessary until everything is combined. Top with the cheese.
Bake pasta for 20 – 25 minutes until golden and bubbly. Let cook for 5 minutes before serving.
* You can make this in a casserole, just cook the eggplant and sauce in a pot, then transfer to an oiled casserole dish.
**This recipe is perfect doubled, and baked in a large casserole.
***Gluten free or whole wheat pasta works well here.
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