She's on a break. She needs a break!
(name that movie)
But I'm back! And I'm here to talk to you about simple things.
Simple things like Spring. It's happening here in Boston. Big time. Last week there were a couple of nice days, then I went skiing, you know, where the snow is. When I came back to Boston, the trees were blooming! All of a sudden, it's Spring! It's breezy and pink and I don't have to go home from work in the dark!
I absolutely love Spring and Fall. It's so transitional; no two days are alike. Summer and Winter seem too static, and I like change better. Right now, everything is so beautiful, and it makes me a little anxious, like I'm going to miss something. This might say more about my personality than anything else, but whatever it is, I'm outside more and I'm happy about it.
Another simple thing? This baked spaghetti. It's comforting and wonderful. Kind of like spring, but not as breezy.
I had a hankering for baked pasta but I didn't want to do all the work that a really great lasagna requires. I really just wanted the melty, browned mozzarella that goes on top, so I decided to embrace simplicity and use spaghetti instead. We had this a lot as a kid and I remember that the crunchy bits on top were always my favorite. And, obviously, the cheese.
Let's bake some pasta!
I started by sauteing some sliced zucchini in a little bit of olive oil, and seasoned with salt and pepper. I wanted to sneak in some vegetables to the dish and the zucchini looked good at the grocery store, but you can use whatever you want!
I let the zucchini cook until just softened, about 5 minutes, then I crushed some whole plum tomatoes by hand into the skillet. This is fun, by the way. Wash your hands, then open the can and hold over the skillet. Take the tomatoes one by one and squeeze. The result is a saucy sauce but there's still a little bit of texture to it. I like it much better than diced canned tomatoes.
Meanwhile, I boiled some salted water and added some spaghetti. I tried out Ronzoni Smart Taste and was pleasantly surprised.
While the sauce was simmering and the pasta was cooking, I lined an oven safe pan with foil, which in this case was a cast iron skillet because my casserole dish is at K's house.
When the pasta was al dente, I drained the spaghetti and returned it to the pot, then poured the sauce over the top. I added about 1/2 a cup of shredded mozzarella cheese and tossed to combine, then added the pasta to the prepared pan. Parmesan cheese went on top.
Finally, I sliced some fresh mozzarella and arranged it on top of the pasta. I made it in a flower design because I thought it looked pretty. Spring is everywhere!
I put the whole thing in the oven and baked for about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes was up, I turned the oven on broil and baked for about 5 minutes until the cheese was melted and a little browned. The top of the spaghetti was a little crunchy too. That's the good stuff.
I served it all up in a bowl with some black cracked pepper on top.
This was perfectly simple but really, really good. The added vegetables were a nice change in texture from the spaghetti and the cheese on top was stretchy and toasty.
The best part about this is that it's completely up to you. If you want it to taste more like a margherita pizza, add a ton of basil, and cube up some mozzarella to mix in the pasta. Mediterranean? Feta cheese, kalamata olives, and oregano. Primavera? Add every vegetable you can imagine.
Whatever you do, please bake it. All the flavors meld and mingle and the spaghetti, or whatever pasta you'd like, gets a little crunchy on top. It's texture and it's good.
Here's the recipe!
Baked Spaghetti with Zucchini and Mozzarella
- 1 box spaghetti (I used Ronzoni Smart Taste)
- 1 28 ounce can whole plum tomatoes, crushed by hand
- Salt and Pepper
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
- 2 zucchini, sliced lengthwise and then into 1/4 inch slices
- 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella (I used reduced fat)
- 1 large ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced into rounds
- Parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain and return to pot. Line an oven proof dish with foil and set aside.
- In a large skillet, add 2 teaspoons olive oil and heat over medium heat. Add zucchini and saute for 5 minutes until slightly softened. Add tomatoes and season with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat to low and simmer until pasta is ready.
- When pasta is ready, add sauce to pasta and toss to combine. Add shredded mozzarella cheese and toss to combine. Add pasta to the prepared baking dish and top with shredded Parmesan cheese. Finally, arrange sliced fresh mozzarella on top in whatever fashion you'd like.
- Serve in bowls with a little bit of fresh cracked pepper on top.