Get dinner on the table in under an hour with this quick and homemade and Healthy Vegetarian Orecchiette Pasta Bake.
I’ve always been partial to a spicy sweet pasta sauce. Being that it can be so hard to find a premade one that doesn’t taste too preserved or fake tasting, I usually had to wait to enjoy it until out for dinner at the rare restaurant that had it. But I've changed all that with this Healthy Vegetarian Orecchiette Pasta Bake.
Maybe it was that my first memories of homemade pasta sauce were a fun, yet involved all-day pasta canning process with family. Or, maybe it is just that most pasta sauces actually just are a pain to make with their lists of tomato variations, seasonings, herbs, simmering times, and tomato splatters all over the place.
Either way, in the past I usually just strayed away from whipping up one myself in fear that my appetite would lack the patience needed to simmer a sauce forever and who really does like cleaning up a messy, crusty stove, anyways?
A Snowstorm Epiphany
Then, when making pizza in a snowstorm a few months ago I discovered a low maintenance and easy pizza sauce from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “Baking Basics” cookbook that I could just not stop with. After throwing all the ingredients in a food processor, I simmered the sauce quickly on the stove top and threw it on the pizza. Minimal hassle and my kitchen was no worse the wear for it.
A few adjustments to the recipe -- adding in some spice, garlic, and a little sweet kick -- I created a healthy homemade pizza sauce that could also function as a pasta sauce. Then, challenging common notions, I wondered if I could let the sauce simmer with pasta as it baked instead of spending extra time simmering on the stove.
Testing proved that I could and so I layered the sauce in with noodles, dollops of cheesy ricotta, and a final layer of mozzarella. What resulted is an easy meatless pasta bake in less than an hour (start to finish!). It had the creamy, dreamy cheesy layers and the kind of spicy tomato sauce that makes all my quick pasta baked recipe dreams come true.
5 Reasons why you should make this delicious pasta bake with tomato:
- It's quick & easy to make
- Clean-up is a breeze-- really!
- The whole family will love it
- It's full of healthy vegetarian protein
- The cheesy ricotta layer is simply swoon-worthy.
Basically: spicy-sweet homemade pasta sauce, pasta, and layers of gooey cheese come together to create a pasta bake I bet your family will request for on repeat. 🙂
What is the healthiest pasta sauce?
The healthiest pasta sauce is one that has the best quality ingredients, minimal unnatural ingredients and preservatives, and a conservative (or nonexistent) amount of added sugar. Canned jars of pasta sauce can have lots of unnatural ingredients and preservatives and added sugar -- making them surprisingly unhealthy -- so be sure to check the label.
Otherwise, this recipe for pasta sauce with canned diced tomatoes is quick and it meets all the criteria for a healthy pasta sauce!
Can you freeze a pasta bake?
Yes! Believe it or not, you can freeze a pasta bake. Once you've baked your pasta, just scoop leftovers in individual size portions -- this will help it reheat the quickest -- and then place in airtight, freezer safe containers to freeze. The pasta bake will last in the freezer for 2-3 months this way.
To reheat, just defrost the bake in the fridge for 1 day and then reheat. Bake the individual portions bake in the oven uncovered in the glass container or another oven-safe container at 375 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until it's bubbling around the sides.
What are good substitutes for orecchiette pasta?
You just want a smaller shaped pasta that can "hold" the pasta sauce and cheese so you get the flavors of each in every bite. That being said, small pasta shells, bow-tie pasta, or even penne pasta are all good substitutions for orecchiette pasta.
Can I add meat to this vegetarian pasta bake?
Of course! Just brown up some ground turkey, ground beef, fresh italian chicken sausage or your other preferred meat in a saute pan while the pasta cooks. Once it's cooked through, mix it in with the tomato sauce and layer the sauce into the bake as directed.
Vegetarian Baked Pasta Cooking Notes:
- To make this gluten-free, just sub in similar size gluten-free noodles like these ones, cooked according to their package directions.
- Don't fear the homemade sauce!! This is the easiest homemade sauce ever. Seriously. Add all the ingredients to a food processor or blender, blend it all up and then layer into the dish with the other ingredients. The sauce cooks and "develops" its flavors while baking with the pasta!
- I like my pasta sauce spicy-sweet, but this recipe is at about a milder medium spice level. Feel free to adjust your amount of red pepper flakes depending on how spicy you want your sauce!
- I'm generally not an ingredient snob, but this is one place where the better the ricotta cheese you buy, the better end result you will have. That being said, it's usually worth the extra $1.50 or so for the fancier name brand ricotta cheese. Also, use whole milk ricotta! Such a better flavor.
- I finish the recipe off with a few minutes under the broiler to amp up that beautifully browned cheese. You can avoid this step, though, if you are fine with how browned it already is after the normal baking time.
A super simple yet tasty pasta sauce comes together with ear-shaped noodles and dollops of cheesy ricotta in this heartwarming pasta dish!
Pasta & Bake:
- 1 lb dried orecchiette noodles
- Non-stick spray
- 1 ¼ cup part skim mozarella cheese
- 4 small (or 2-3 large) cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 cans diced unsalted tomatoes, undrained
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon granulated white sugar
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- ⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ⅛ - ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Cheesy Ricotta Layer:
- 1 ½ cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- ⅓ cup grated parmesan
- 1 teaspoon granulated/dried garlic
- 1 ½ teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees and grease a 2 ½ quart or 3 quart baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
- Cook orecchiette in a large pot of heavily salted water according to the package directions. Drain.
While orecchiette cooks:
- Add all the sauce ingredients to a food processor or blender and process on medium speed for 15-45 seconds, or until all the tomatoes are broken up and no large chunks remain.
- Mix together all the cheesy ricotta layer ingredients together in a medium bowl with a fork or whisk, until the eggs are broken down and fully combined into the cheese and spices.
Assemble the pasta bake:
- Spread about 1 cup pasta sauce on the bottom of the baking dish. Then sprinkle in ½ of the pasta. Spread about ½ of the remaining sauce over the pasta and dollop with ½ of the ricotta cheese mixture. Repeat one more time with the second half of sauce, pasta, and ricotta mixture. Sprinkle the top with mozzarella cheese.
- Bake in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until rapidly bubbling around the sides and starting to brown. Turn broiler on high (or to 525 degrees) and broil for 2-4 more minutes, or until nicely browned to your liking.
- Remove pasta bake from oven and let rest at room temperature for 5-10 minutes, or until the sauce is no longer runny when scooped into.
Amount Per Serving Calories 243Total Fat 10gSaturated Fat 5gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 3gCholesterol 77mgSodium 700mgCarbohydrates 25gFiber 2gSugar 5gProtein 14g
This nutrition breakdown is an estimate of the nutritional value of this recipe and cannot be taken as facts. The owners of Mae's Menu are not nutritionists or dieticians and therefore cannot be held accountable for this nutrition estimate. Please contact your nutritionist or medical professional for a nutritional breakdown of this food. Furthermore, this food is not intended to prevent, diagnose, cure, or treat any disease.
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