When I was growing up, one of my most memorable lunches was macaroni and cheese: elbow pasta with melted Kraft Velveeta cheese mixed in — I hate to admit this but I thought it was the best lunch ever. From here I graduated to Kraft Dinner for those gourmet university days and I also prepared it for my boys when they were younger. Now perish the thought that I would use processed cheese to prepare any dish today!! I discovered the following recipe on various Italian cooking sites with a combination of different cheeses and vegetables. It looks great to bring to the table as a one-dish main course. I will walk you through the basic recipe that I used here and at the end of this post, I will offer some variations.
2 sweet peppers
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 tbsp. mixed herbs, such as basil, oregano and thyme
3 cups homemade or store-bought pasta sauce
1 pound pasta (I used penne here, but you can substitute another similar size shape or whole wheat pasta)
1 1/2 cups grated cheeses — I mixed 1/2 cup of smoked mozzarella (love the smokiness) with fontina cheese but all regular mozzarella would be fine
1 1/2 cups of frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan plus 1/4 cup more for topping
2 tbsp. butter, cut into small pieces, optional.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Cut up the peppers, zucchini, squash, mushrooms and onions into bite-size pieces. Put them on a baking sheet and drizzle the olive oil, salt and pepper and dried herbs on top. Roast about 20 minutes until slightly cooked but still tender. They will cook again later when added to the other ingredients.
In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 6 minutes; it will cook through completely after all the components are mixed together and baked. If you are cooking whole wheat pasta, cook for about 10 minutes. Drain water.
In a large mixing bowl, gently mix the pasta, sauce, grated cheeses, 1/4 cup of the grated parmesan, and the roasted vegetables. Season with a little more salt and pepper if you wish. When all the combined ingredients are covered in sauce, transfer the mixture into a large greased serving dish (coat the sides and bottom with a little olive oil) . My dish shown here holds 16 cups of and is filled to the top with this recipe. Sprinkle on the remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan and butter pieces, if desired. Bake until the cheese is melted, about 30 minutes.
I served this with a simple tomato and red onion salad with chopped basil leaves — simple dressing of 3 parts olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar….on a cold Ottawa night, this meal will keep you warm inside!! Bon appetit!
Variations: I used the vegetables that I had in the fridge that day. Sweet potatoes can be substituted for squash. Use different coloured sweet peppers. Broccoli or cauliflower, or both, could also be used. It’s just nice to use a variety of colour.