In the first year of our marriage, a good friend mentioned to me that weekly date nights, even if it just means a picnic at the park, were essential to her family. We took that advice with whatever modifications we needed to stay within our budget, and we’re still loving our Friday night date nights.
The hard part, of course, is deciding where to eat if it’s a week we’re heading to a restaurant. We used to try to decide together, but both of us are the kind of people that feel burdened by decisions, and sometimes we couldn’t agree on whether it should be pizza, Mexican, or something else. So now, we alternate who gets to decide (read: who HAS to decide while the other person gets a week off from deciding). There’s only one real rule, besides the budget: no Italian.
You see, Ryan grew up eating home-cooked Italian food, so he doesn’t see it as a real treat. And while my own pasta has never been cooked by an Italian granny, I definitely have eaten enough of it to know that pasta is nothing if not 1) cheap and 2) easy to make. So why would I go pay for a plate of something I could make on my own?
Well, it’s fancy. That’s why.
While we have reasons for not heading out to an Italian restaurant on a Friday night, I used to long for a plate of super-fancy gnocchi or something that was so deliciously and delicately flavored that I wouldn’t have bothered to make it on my own. But with our unspoken rule in place, I had to just get creative.
That’s when I figured out how easy it is to make roasted red pepper pasta, my absolute favorite kind. And that’s what I’ve got for you here, friends.
This isn’t a one-pot recipe in the same way as my 30-minute one-pot veggie pasta, since you do have to drain the pasta at some point in the process. But I’m still calling it a one-pot pasta in the sense that you cook everything in the same pot and only dirty that one pot–and, well, the cutting board. Either way, it’s easy and doesn’t take long, and it’s really tasty.
For my roasted red pepper pasta, I use whatever favorite pasta sauce I have on hand–it might be homemade, or it might be some nice store-bought roasted garlic tomato sauce or something, like this time. In my Vitamix, I puree a jar of roasted red peppers with the tomato sauce and voila! Roasted red pepper sauce. This roasted red pepper pasta is made with my semi-homemade sauce with the addition of zucchini (I needed to get something green in there) and gooey gobs of fresh mozzarella cheese. If you’re vegan or just dairy-free, you could use vegan cheese or leave it out altogether. If you leave the cheese out completely, you can skip the step where you bake the pot. If you’re gluten-free, use gluten-free pasta and enjoy. 🙂 I used whole wheat pasta this time, but brown rice would work well.
What’s your favorite Italian dish?
Easy roasted red pepper pasta with mozzarella cheese and zucchini.
- 13.75 ounces (for me, one box) long-shape pasta like spaghetti, etc. (gluten-free if necessary)
- 24 ounces your favorite pasta sauce
- 12 ounce jar roasted red pepper strips, drained
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into half-inch cubes
- 1 small or medium zucchini/courgette
- olive oil
- sea salt
- fresh basil for topping (optional)
Preheat oven to 400F. Fill a medium, oven-safe pot (I used enameled cast iron) halfway with water and bring to a boil.
While the water comes to a boil, being preparing your other ingredients by cutting the mozzarella into cubes and slicing the zucchini thinly.
When the water boils, add a dash of salt and a drizzle of olive oil and place the pasta in the water. Cook according to package directions for "al dente" pasta. You don't want the pasta cooked any more than this, as it'll cook more in the oven and then it will fall apart when you serve it. If you're not sure if you've reached the al dente stage, er on the side of less-cooked.
While the pasta is cooking, prepare your sauce by placing the tomato sauce and the red pepper strips in a blender or food processor and blending until smooth. Tip: if your tomato sauce is chunky and you prefer it that way, just blend the red pepper strips with about a cup of the tomato sauce to leave the rest chunky. Then combine the two.
When pasta is done, drizzle it generously with olive oil and add in all of the sauce, mozzarella, and zucchini slices. You'll need to make a judgement call here, because if your sauce is on the thick side, you may need to add a little water (start with 1/4 cup) to get the pasta moist enough. Remember, it's about to go into the oven and will absorb a little more liquid. I like to use tongs to incorporate the sauce and other ingredients.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese has melted. Top with fresh basil (if using) and serve.