Last night it rained in Boston. It was kinda humid and weirdly chilly at the same time. That meant a couple things to me: I wanted to stay in, take the night off to relax and curl up in some sweatpants with a glass of wine and some pasta.
I love, love, LOVE pasta. I think I feel about pasta the same way some people feel about chocolate cake. I crave pasta and could keep eating it and eating it and never get sick of it. To me, pasta is the food equivalent of your favorite comfortable sweatpants. It's cozy, it's comfortable and exactly what you need on an relaxing stay-at-home evening. I love making pasta dishes on nights like this and I even bought a special little baking dish that serves one, so I won't have leftovers. (Again I'll draw on the parallel to chocolate cake. I just can't have leftover baked pasta sitting around!)
My favorite go-to pasta dish is a simple cheesy baked pasta that I made here. But last night I was feeling like I wanted to get a little creative and change things up a bit and lately it seems my newest obsession is roasted red peppers. I don't know what it is about them but I just cannot get enough of them! They are just so sweet and when added to a sauce, they add this layer of rich natural sweetness that you just can't get from anywhere else. So roasted red peppers were the main inspiration and focus of the sauce and then a last minute game time decision included me tossing in about 1/4 cup of Malbec (a nice red wine typically hailing from Argentina). This little addition gave my sauce a deep brick-red color as well as complimenting and balancing out the sweetness of the roasted red peppers. It provided another delicious layer of flavor.
For cheeses, I had some left over ricotta (from my Lemon Blueberry Ricotta muffins that I made the other day) so that went in as well as some torn up Ciliegine, which is just small balls of fresh mozzarella. That all got melty and oh so yummy. This dish totally makes the pasta recipe rotation. I will definitely be making this for my next rainy-day-stay-in evening! This would also be a great dish to serve for a dinner party because it is a little unique, can be made a day ahead and then just thrown in the oven. This would be a total crowd pleaser served with a side salad and some garlic bread.
Roasted Red Pepper and Red Wine Baked Pasta
*I made this to serve one but you can just do the math and make it for as many people as you'd like. As always, you can change around the ingredients to suit your own tastes.
- 1 cup pasta, cooked in salted water until just al dente (meaning it still has a little bite to it)
- 1 roasted red pepper, finely chopped (freshly roasted or from a jar is fine)
- 1 - 14 oz can of diced tomatoes
- 2-3 tbs of tomato paste
- A couple splashes of Chicken, beef or vegetable stock (I had chicken stock on hand so that's what I used)
- 1-2 cloves of garlic
- 5-6 button mushrooms, sliced thin
- A couple sprinkles of fennel seeds
- A couple pinches of oregano
- Fresh basil, sliced thin (I used about 2 tbs worth but in my opinion, you can never have enough fresh basil!)
- About 1/4 c. red wine (I used a Melbec)
- A couple drizzles of extra virgin olive oil
- A couple spoonfuls of ricotta cheese
- Fresh mozzarella, just enough to top the pasta
Start by heating some extra virgin olive oil and finely chopping some garlic. Add the garlic to the pan and let it simmer until soft, keeping an eye on it so it doesn't burn. Once the garlic softens, toss in the mushrooms and let them cook until they brown a little. Add in the tomato paste and a couple drizzles more of olive oil. Stir it all together and let it (stirring often) until the paste has turned a deep red color. At this point, add the can of tomatoes and the roasted red peppers as well as the seasonings; oregano, fennel and salt and pepper. Save the fresh basil to add at the last minute so it stays green. Stir in the wine and the stock. Cover and let simmer on low heat. (The longer the better but at least let it simmer for 2 hours, checking on it every once in a while and giving it a stir.)
Next, add the pasta to the sauce and stir to combine. At this point, the pasta should be swimming in lots of sauce. (Remember, when you bake this, the pasta will soak up the sauce so you'll want to bake it in LOTS of sauce.) Spoon a layer of pasta and sauce into a baking pan. Using a fork or soon, dot little balls of ricotta on top of the pasta. Cover with another layer of pasta and sauce. Top with some additional dots of ricotta and then top with fresh mozzarella. Bake in the oven at 300 for about 45minutes to an hour or until the cheese gets bubbly. You can certainly expedite the cooking time in a pinch, but you'll end up with a more evenly cooked dish if you cook it low and slow.
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