Come on, take a good look at that pasta, the cheese is all melted and browned on top, the sauce is clinging to each pasta shell. I just want to take a bite right now, though I don’t think it would taste to good at 6:00 in the morning. I’m sure there are many of you that aren’t cheese fans or think a dish like this might not be too good for the old waistline, I get it, but I also believe life is about moderation and if you have balance, then you can eat just about anything (real food that is). For the rest of you that are licking your choppers, this dish is pure comfort bliss, especially on a cool fall or winter night.
Yes, there’s a lot of cheese in this recipe, but I love cheese, so that made me happy. If you’re not a cheese fan than this might not be the pasta for you. I balance this rich meal by serving up a large vegetable portion on the side, so I don’t fill up on just pasta. I either serve it with a nice big kale salad or kid friendly caesar salad, or some sort of dark green vegetable, like broccolini. You could also whip up some garlic bread to serve on the side. This is definitely a two-nighter meal or the perfect meal to serve a crowd. I baked it in these cute individual caserrole dishes, but it’s truly the perfect pasta to be baked in a large casserole dish.
If you’re a working mom or busy parent, then you’re going to love the ease and simplicity of this dish. It’s truly the perfect weeknight pasta because it’s so simple to throw together last minute, or popped in the oven if made ahead of time. If you followed my instructions on how to keep greens fresh, then all you have to do is grab your fresh greens and toss together a salad, as the pasta is baking away in the oven. You can have dinner on the table lickity split. The added bonus is that you will have dinner for two nights! Who doesn’t love that? I know I do.
pasta bake with pancetta, tomato sauce and mozzarella
- 1 16oz package pasta shells or similar shaped pasta
- 4 ounces pancetta or prosciutto - I used pancetta
- 3 cups (1 24-ounce jar) good-quality tomato sauce. I used Rao’s famous sauce, and it was delish! You can find it at most grocery stores. You can also make your own fresh stuff. I have a recipe for fresh marina sauce and for a basic tomato sauce.
- 1 8-ounce ball of fresh mozzarella, chopped or pulled into bite-sized pieces – I just pulled mine apart, it was super easy.
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1/2 cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese – I used shredded
- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Pretty simple ingredients for a simple weeknight meal.
Meanwhile, while the pasta water is coming to a boil, sauté the pancetta in a skillet over medium heat until crisp and golden brown. Make sure to stir frequently so it doesn’t burn. Let cool and then crumble into small pieces.
Pull apart your ball of mozzarella cheese and set aside.
Add to the cooked pasta, the cooked pancetta, tomato sauce, freshly torn mozzarella, and 1 1/2 cups of the shredded mozzarella cheese. Combine them all together. Season to taste with with salt and pepper, if desired. I omitted this step as the pasta tasted great as it was.
Pour the pasta into a large baking or casserole dish or smaller individual casserole dishes, as shown below. If you’re using a larger casserole dish, then you might want to grease it lightly with a bit of butter or olive oil. I actually filled to the brim, 4 of these casserole dishes below.
Top the pasta (or each of the pastas) with the parmesan cheese and the remaining shredded mozzarella.
Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling and the cheese is light golden brown. If you want your cheese to get that browned crispy look as shown in the above photos, just throw the pasta under the broiler for a minute or two. Serve the pasta up with a nice kale salad or kid friendly caesar or vegetable of choice.
We served this up the first night with some broccolini and the leftovers the next night with some kid friendly caesar salad.
If you’re a fan of easy baked pasta dishes, then try my cheesy baked tortellini. Yes, another cheesy baked pasta, but as I said earlier, I’m a fan of cheese.