Pasta Bake with Awesome Sauce

This pasta bake with a savory tomato “awesome sauce” and gooey pools of mozzarella makes for a perfect meal to serve a crowd.

Pasta bake with awesome sauce

This post was created in partnership with Muir Glen Organic. All opinions are our own.

What’s cozier than gathering around a pasta bake? This pasta bake is all gooey, cheesy comfort food. We’ve designed it as main dish for gathering around the table: and we’ve been making it for years for family and friends. It’s loved by many in our family for the awesome sauce: the tangy tomato sauce with a hint of savoriness from a secret ingredient. Keep reading for the recipe!

Pasta bake with awesome sauce

Making this pasta bake

This hearty pasta bake is fitting for sharing with family and friends in the chilly months ahead. It’s made with Alex’s “awesome sauce”, savory tomatoes simmered with garlic, herbs, a little butter and olive oil, and a secret ingredient: chopped green olives. They add a savory saltiness to the pasta bake along with some complexity, and if you chop them small enough, olive haters will never know. (It’s true, we made this for an olive-hating friend and she was pleasantly surprised.)

Mix the awesome sauce with some cavatappi pasta and top with gooey fresh mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, and you’ve got a pasta bake of belly-filling goodness. If you can’t find cavatappi, any short shape will do: penne or rigatoni would work well, and feel free to substitute gluten-free pasta for GF diets.

Pasta bake with awesome sauce

How to cook pasta to al dente

In this pasta bake, you don’t want to have mushy pasta! How to cook pasta to al dente? Cooking pasta too long is a common mistake in the kitchen. To cook pasta to al dente, check the package instructions and then start tasting your pasta a few minutes before that! (The timing listed on many packages results in rubbery pasta.) You want to catch the pasta right when it goes from crunchy to tender. It should still be slightly firm inside–but not crunchy! Pasta with just the right bite is essential to making this dish sing.

Pasta bake with awesome sauce

For the tomatoes

We love using fire roasted tomatoes because of their sweet flavor right out of the can: there’s no hint of bitterness! If you can’t find fire roasted tomatoes for this pasta bake, use the highest quality tomato you can find. We use fire roasted tomatoes in lots of our recipes because they are just that good! Here are a few more of our recipes with fire roasted tomatoes:

Looking for more pasta recipes?

Outside of this pasta bake recipe, here are a few more pasta recipes we love:

This pasta bake recipe is…

Vegetarian. For gluten-free, use gluten-free pasta.

Print

Pasta Bake with Awesome Sauce


1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (38 votes, average: 4.03 out of 5)

  • Author: a Couple Cooks
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 35 minutes
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 6 to 8 1x

Description

This pasta bake with a savory tomato “awesome sauce” and gooey pools of mozzarella makes for a perfect meal to serve a crowd.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 pound cavatappi pasta, or other short pasta
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1 shallot
  • 6-ounce dry weight can ripe green olives (pitted)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 28-ounce can Muir Glen Organic crushed tomatoes (original or fire roasted)
  • 1 15-ounce can Muir Glen Organic diced tomatoes (original or fire roasted)
  • 1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon honey (optional)
  • 4 cups baby spinach leaves
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into disks
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425°F.
  2. Boil 6 quarts water with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Add the pasta and boil until al dente, about 6 to 7 minutes, then drain. Pour into a 9” x 13” pan and add a glug of olive oil to prevent it from sticking.
  3. Meanwhile, peel and mince the garlic and shallot. Drain the olives and finely chop them.
  4. In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and shallot and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes until fragrant. Add the olives, tomatoes and their juices, balsamic vinegar, butter, nutmeg, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, kosher salt, pepper, and honey and stir to combine. Simmer gently for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust salt as desired. Add the spinach leaves and cook another 2 to 3 minutes until tender.
  5. Pour the sauce into the pasta in the baking dish and mix to combine. Top with slices of fresh mozzarella cheese and grated Parmesan cheese. Bake until the cheese is golden, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving.

  • Category: Main Dish
  • Method: Baked
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: Pasta bake, Baked Pasta, Tomato Sauce, Cavatappi,

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

7 Comments

  • Reply
    Karlie
    November 28, 2016 at 6:48 am

    I can not wait to try that awesome sauce!

  • Reply
    Allyson (Considering The Radish)
    November 28, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    This awesome sauce looks awesome. Yum.

  • Reply
    Chris
    November 28, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    Yes, food is comfort. No denying it. And it is good. Blessings to you both.

  • Reply
    Katie @ Whole Nourishment
    November 29, 2016 at 7:27 am

    I like the sounds of Alex’s “awesome sauce”. This baked pasta is definitely going on my holiday meal plan. Hope you guys have some quiet moments together to breath and be this holiday season.

  • Reply
    Metamorph
    December 4, 2016 at 5:54 pm

    This was delicious! The sauce is rich and complex but next time will half the red pepper flakes.

  • Reply
    Cassie
    May 1, 2017 at 9:27 am

    This has become our go-to baked pasta, and now anytime I make any kind of marinara sauce for pasta, I add olives & balsamic. The salty/tangy are the perfect additions to the sweetness of tomato sauce. We love this one!

    • Reply
      Sonja
      May 1, 2017 at 2:05 pm

      Ooo I am so excited to hear this! And so is Alex, the mastermind behind this recipe :) So glad you enjoyed it and it’s a great vote of confidence for the secret “awesomeness”. :)

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