Pasta is my love language. Especially when covered in a silky tomato sauce and lots of cheese. It’s the one food that I almost always crave; the perfect combo of comfort, easy and absolute deliciousness.
Even though it’s my dad who is Italian, my Danish mother has the same affinity towards pasta as I do. It’s my mom who creates some of my favorite pasta recipes and my mom who I call whenever I’ve got a recipe question. She might not have Italian blood, but that woman knows her way around the cucina.
Growing up, her signature dish was baked vegetable ziti. A dish I’ve made hundreds of times and have used to celebrate new life, mourn death and fed many a hungry, broken hearts. It’s the dish that I almost always have ready to go in my freezer whenever anyone needs some nourishment or we need a ready-made dinner.
I love baked ziti but I don’t like the prep. Between slow-roasting the vegetables, making the homemade sauce, seasoning the ricotta and cooking the pasta it’s at least an hour process.
So when I saw this recipe from Pinch of Yum, I knew I had to try it. Very little prep and you don’t have to cook the pasta ahead of time? Sold.
I had visions of making lots of changes; doing a butter-free sauce, using vegan sausage and increasing the vegetables. But all of that ended up being more work- the exact opposite of what I intended. After all, I already own the world’s best baked ziti recipe; I needed something that could be put together for a weeknight and be just as delicious.
Therefore, I ended up keeping things mostly the same. I lightened up the sauce, kept the vegan sausage and used baby spinach for extra greens. The result is a cheesy, creamy pasta dish that’s perfect for any just about any kind of gathering. Enjoy! xo
- 8 ounces penne pasta, uncooked
- 1 (28 ounce) can crushed fire roasted tomatoes
- 2 cups milk (see notes)
- 1/3 cup butter, melted (see notes)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- ¼-1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (depends on how spicy you like it)
- 1.5 teaspoons salt
- 3 links (~9 ounces) vegan Italian sausage, sliced
- 1 cup spinach leaves, chopped
- ¼ cup mozzerella cheese
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Mix all of the penne ingredients together, except for the spinach and cheese, in a large bowl and add to a 9×13″ casserole baking dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 35-40 minutes until penne is al dente.
- Remove the foil (be careful!), stir, add in the spinach and stir again. Top with cheese and place back in the oven under the broiler. Let brown for 3-5 minutes, then remove from the oven and let stand for a few minutes so the sauce can thicken.
- I wanted to make this vegan and tried a version. I liked the vegetarian version posted here better, which is why I presented this one. However, to make it vegan, here’s what to do: use cashew milk instead of milk (I like cashew milk instead of soy when cooked; try Pacific Food’s, it’s so yummy!) For butter, use Earth Balance melted butter. Omit the cheese or use a non-dairy cheese instead.
Keywords: vegetarian, pasta, bake, penne, casserole