This has gooey cheese for comfort and vegetables for health. It should be highly spiced, so adding at least some crushed red pepper flakes is a good idea. But if you don't know whether the recipients like their food hot, discretion is advised.
You may substitute eggplant for all or part of the zucchini. For meat lovers, you could include cooked mild Italian sausage, but any additions will require a larger baking dish.
Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese passed at the table.
The day before serving, transfer the casserole from the freezer to the refrigerator, removing the foil wrapping, to defrost for at least 24 hours, then let it stand at room temperature for 1 hour before baking. Remove the plastic wrap and follow the baking directions.
Make Ahead: If freezing, cool the casserole completely. Wrap first with a layer of plastic wrap, then with a double layer of heavy-duty aluminum foil, and freeze for up to 1 month.
Servings: 6 - 8
- 10 ounces pennette, penne mezze or other short dried pasta
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing the baking dish
- 8 ounces cremini mushrooms (may substitute button mushrooms)
- 2 medium (1 pound total) zucchini
- 1 8-ounce jar roasted red peppers, drained
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 2 to 3 small cloves garlic, minced (2 teaspoons)
- 1 26-ounce jar arrabbiata sauce or other spicy pasta sauce
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste (optional)
- 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (may use reduced-fat version)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions, leaving it slightly undercooked if the casserole is to be frozen. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil.
Meanwhile, clean and trim the mushrooms and cut them into quarters, or cut them in half if they are small. Cut the zucchini into 3/4-inch-thick slices, then cut the slices into quarters or halves. Cut the roasted red peppers into short strips.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees if you will be serving the dish rather than freezing it. Lightly grease a shallow 2 1/2-quart casserole or baking dish with olive oil.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat until the oil shimmers. Add the mushrooms, zucchini, fennel seeds and salt. Stir-fry the vegetables for 5 to 7 minutes, until they are barely tender. When they are almost done, add the garlic and cook for a minute or so, stirring, taking care not to burn the garlic pieces.
Transfer the cooked vegetables to the bowl with the pasta, then add the roasted red pepper strips and the pasta sauce. Taste the mixture and add the crushed red pepper flakes, if desired, for a spicier flavor.
Layer half of the pasta mixture in the prepared casserole or baking dish, then sprinkle it evenly with half of the mozzarella. Cover with the remaining pasta mixture and top with the remaining cheese.
If the dish is to be served rather than frozen, loosely tent it with aluminum foil. Bake for 35 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until the casserole is sizzling and the edges of the cheese have browned. Let it rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Adapted from "Good Cooking: Besides Barbecue," by Abby Mandel (1998).
Tested by Jane Touzalin.
Email questions to the Food Section at firstname.lastname@example.org.