Not every spaghetti-inspired story has a happily-ever-after ending, though the one I’m sharing with you today certainly does.
Once upon a time, pasta and marinara sauce were an inseparable pair.
But in this recipe, Prince Charming – the standard red sauce – is swapped out for a flashy sweet bell pepper, parmesan, and garlic puree that will make your taste buds do a double take. Think of it as romesco meets pesto, if you will.
It gets some of its enticing flavor and substance from garlic and parmesan, but smoky roasted red peppers and fruity olive oil make up the bulk of the sauce. The sweet, delicate flavor coats every crevice of the tubular noodles.
Go on. Tell me this isn’t already sounding like the most delicious Disney pairing you’ve ever enjoyed. Or something like that.
What truly takes the plot of this pasta chronicle to another level is the fact that the ingredients don’t just mingle in one bowl and get thrown onto a plate. Everything is fused together via a speedy ten-minute bake, forming one unified mixture.
Casseroles for the win, baby!
When it comes to baked pasta, there are two schools of thought. Either your intention with finishing the dish in the oven is to simply meld the components together or, if you’re like me, you’ve got a thing for crunchy exteriors.
This recipe doesn’t require you to broil anything, but feel free to sneak in a minute or so if your goal is to achieve that truly glorious golden brown surface.
The preference here all depends on your audience. Some folks prefer their pasta to be melt-in-your-mouth tender, while others adore that carby chew that the edges of a tube-shaped pasta gain after a quick trip under the broiler.
Either way, you’ll end up with plenty of lush, loveable gooeyness under that sublimely crisp top layer, perfect for those who don’t get down with contrasting textures.
Moving along to another one of my favorite subjects: cheese! Let’s show ricotta some love, shall we?
Ethereally fluffy, ricotta is one of my most favorite cheeses. Fresh and full of moisture, it’s made when vinegar or citrus is added to milk and then heated. This causes the curds to thicken and solidify while separating from the whey.
After a strain through some cheesecloth, we wave goodbye to the excess whey and say, “Hello, gorgeous!” to the glorious, light-as-air ricotta.
The mild sweetness of the cheese mirrors that of the sauce, and crushed red pepper flakes add a necessary spark of spice while the parmesan adds a salty kick. No one-note recipes are on the menu when I’m in charge.
And don’t forget, just because this cheesy pasta is in the class of comfort food, that doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from the nutritional perks of the bell peppers.
Potent in vitamins A and C, this veggie-based sauce has the added advantage of being loaded with antioxidants, and potassium too. Way to go, peppers!
Don’t you love it when something that makes you feel all warm and cozy inside is also good for you, at least a little bit? Now, that’s a fairy tale ending I can definitely swoon for.Print
This recipe swaps out the standard marinara typically paired with pasta for a sweet roasted bell pepper sauce, ricotta, and basil. Get the recipe now.
- 1 pound tube-shaped pasta, such as rigatoni or penne
- 12 ounces roasted red peppers (homemade or jarred), drained
- 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese (about 2 1/2 ounces), divided
- 2 large cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
- 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese, divided
- 1 1/2 cups grated low-moisture mozzarella cheese, divided
- 1/4 cup packed fresh basil leaves, divided
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, drain, and return to the pot off-heat.
- Meanwhile, add the roasted red peppers, 2/3 cup parmesan cheese, garlic, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning to a food processor. Pulse until smooth, about 30 seconds, and then scrape down the sides. Pulsing as you pour, slowly drizzle in 1/3 cup olive oil until the sauce comes together and reaches a thick consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper if necessary.
- Pour the red pepper sauce over the pasta along with 1/4 cup of the ricotta, 1 cup of the mozzarella, and half of the basil leaves. Stir to coat.
- Spread the pasta into a 9-by-11-inch baking or casserole dish and evenly dollop the remaining ricotta over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and 2 tablespoons parmesan, and then drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.
- Bake until the cheese is melted and lightly golden brown, about 8-10 minutes. Divide the pasta among plates and evenly garnish with the remaining basil leaves, gently torn to release their essential oils.
- Category: Pasta
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Casserole
Keywords: roasted red pepper, mozzarella, ricotta, Italian
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Cook the Pasta and Puree the Sauce
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cook the rigatoni or penne according to the package directions, drain it in a colander, and return to the pot off the heat. You want it to be just about al dente since it will continue cooking in the oven.
To roast your own peppers from scratch, follow the instructions in our guide that shows you three easy methods.
Meanwhile, add the roasted red peppers, 2/3 cup parmesan cheese, garlic, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and Italian seasoning to a food processor. Pulse until smooth, about 30 seconds, and then scrape down the sides with a spatula.
Pulsing as you pour, slowly drizzle in 1/3 cup olive oil. Keep pulsing until the sauce comes together and attains a thick consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper if necessary.
Step 2 – Assemble the Pasta
Pour the red pepper sauce over the pasta along with 1/4 cup of the ricotta, 1 cup of the mozzarella, and half of the basil leaves. Stir to coat.
Try to gently fold the cheeses into the pasta so they will be spread evenly throughout the mixture.
Spread the mixture into a 9-by-11-inch baking or casserole dish and evenly dollop the remaining ricotta over the top. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and 2 tablespoons parmesan, and then drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.
The oil will add a little extra color and crispness to the top.
Step 3 – Bake and Serve
Gently tear the remaining basil leaves to release their essential oils.
Bake until the cheese is melted and lightly golden brown, for about 8 to 10 minutes.
To achieve a slightly darker color and crisp texture on top, broil on high for about 30-45 seconds until browned to your liking, keeping a close eye on the dish to make sure it doesn’t burn.
Remove from the oven. Divide the pasta among plates and evenly garnish with the basil. Serve with extra parmesan and red pepper flakes on the side, if you like.
You can also garnish each serving with a little olive oil just before serving to add some extra fruitiness and richness.
When Red Peppers Meet Ricotta
I’d love to say I never realized until now how well a smoky roasted vegetable partnered with cheese, but I’d be lying.
When I was growing up, my dad would often toss a few red peppers on the grill or into the oven so we could have the vibrant charred strips on hand to garnish goat cheese-smeared crackers.
The flavor combination is a mouthful of memories for me, and this pasta takes me right back to those epic snacks.
That being said, if you’ve got goat or feta in the fridge that needs to be eaten, don’t be shy. Blend them in (about 2 ounces of each when subbed for the ricotta) right alongside the mozzarella and parmesan.
All cheeses are welcome here.
Just before the pasta hits the oven, try folding in a handful of raw kale chopped into thin ribbons to up the vitamin meter even more. Or, for more carb-heavy baked creations you’ll want to cuddle up to, check out these recipes next:
How will you sneak in a little extra nutrition? Share your healthy secrets in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on December 15, 2013. Last updated on September 8, 2021.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”