Baked Rigatoni Casserole

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Whew! I have emerged from my four day long food coma and shopping excursions to bring you a new recipe! I had a fantastically wonderful break from my “real job” which I spent cooking, baking, connecting with family, shopping, Christmas tree hunting/decorating, and getting into all sorts of retail therapy/trouble (sometimes it’s so hard to tell the difference). I have a post planned to re-cap the holiday weekend, but for now I want to share a really delicious, easy, and comforting casserole.

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What is there not to love love love about pasta?! It’s extremely versatile and is a great go-to item to stock in the pantry for a last minute meal. Typically I have several varieties of pasta (regular, whole grain, and gluten-free) in my pantry in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some of my favorite shapes are bowtie, cavatappi, elbows, and penne; definitely give preferential treatment to the short cut pastas. Not a big fan of long noodles like spaghetti and angel hair; I cannot seem to eat them without getting sauce all over my face and clothes. I probably shouldn’t admit that. I’d like to say I have certain rules when it comes to pairing a shape of pasta to a particular recipe, but it would be a complete lie. I usually choose the shape that tickles me that day; anything goes with pasta!

Baked rigatoni is perfect for the coming winter months because it requires only a few ingredients, most of which you probably have on hand, and can be baked in the oven while you savor the last fleeting minutes of daylight. Four thirty sunset are killing me; I must immediately have pajamas and peppermint tea when I get home from work…it’s the only cure. And maybe Christmas movies; I spent 20 minutes searching the cable guide last night and recording all the holiday classics. Rudolph, you are just too cute with your fuzzy tail and shiny nose!

Anyway, back to the food. This recipe features a homemade tomato basil sauce to coat all that perfectly al-dente pasta, but if you are short on time feel free to use store-bought jarred marinara sauce…I will never know! Often I use my favorite jarred variety, but making homemade sauce is surprisingly easy. Especially if you are in your pajamas before 6:00 p.m. and you are trying to look like you haven’t given up on the rest of the day. 😉 I want to note this recipe can easily be adjusted for your vegetarian friends and family by simply removing the ground meat or using a meat substitute in place of the beef. A big green salad and warm garlic bread would be the perfect sides to round out a giant plate of baked rigatoni. 

Noodles tossed in a homemade tomato basil sauce covered with TWO types of melty ooey-gooey oozey cheese…yes please!

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. rigatoni pasta (or your favorite shape)
  • 1 lb. lean ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • pinch red pepper flakes; add more if you like it spicy
  • 1 bunch basil (about 10-12 large leaves)
  • 1 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
  • salt/pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

As I was stirring I noticed this random twisty noodle thrown in with the rigatoni...it made me laugh!

As I was stirring I noticed this random twisty noodle thrown in with the rigatoni…it made me laugh!

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the noodles and cook until al-dente, according to your package instructions. Drain and set aside. While the pasta is cooking warm a large skillet over medium heat…

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Add the ground beef, onion, and garlic. Saute for 8-10 minutes until the beef is fully cooked and onions are translucent and tender. Drain the excess fat from the pan, if needed.

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I like to use unsalted tomatoes so I can control the amount of salt that goes into the dish.

Add the crushed tomatoes, oregano, dried basil, red pepper flakes, and salt/pepper to taste.

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Stack the basil leaves, roll the into a log and thinly slice to julienne; add the basil to the tomato mixture.

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Stir to combine and simmer for approximately 10 minutes until the sauce is warmed through and the flavors are combined.

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Combine the tomato sauce and the cooked pasta then spoon into a large 9 x 13 serving dish.

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Sprinkle with mozzarella and parmesan cheese; I like the top to be completely covered since the cheesy crust is my favorite part.

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Transfer the casserole dish to the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes before serving to allow the casserole to firm up a little. Just look at that cheesy crust!!!

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Baked rigatoni is the perfect dish for Sunday night dinner with the family or a hearty casserole during the week. I guess the silver lining to all this cold weather, snow, and early sunsets is a steaming bowl of comforting pasta; enjoy!

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