Pasta with Zucchini and Mozzarella

When preparing for large parties, baked pastas are a very popular menu choice, especially if time is an issue. The advantage of preparing a dish ahead of time and then popping it in the oven just before your guests arrive, so that you can spend more time enjoying their company than working, is very appealing. However, baked pasta is actually not the ideal make-ahead dish that many assume it to be. Pasta that sits in sauce for hours while it cools off, and then is re-cooked has a tendency to end up limp and mushy. If you want to experience a truly great baked pasta dish please do not succumb to the temptation of making it ahead of time. If you cook the pasta just short of al dente and then bake the dish only long enough for the cheese to melt and the top to become crispy immediately after assembling it, you will end up with a perfect meal for you and your guests every time.

Serves 4 to 6

1 cup olive oil
2 medium zucchini, sliced thinly
flour spread on a plate for dredging
salt & pepper to taste
1 pound of penne pasta
4 cups marinara sauce
1/2 pound fresh mozzarella
1/4 cup pecorino-romano cheese

  1. Heat olive oil in medium saute pan over medium heat. Dredge zucchini in flour, shaking off any excess and fry in batches. Using a slotted spoon transfer them to paper towels, and season with salt & pepper.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400°F and bring a pot of liberally salted water to a boil, add pasta and cook until almost al dente, the pasta should be slightly undercooked.
  3. Strain pasta and transfer to a 3 to 4 quart baking dish. Add 2 cups of marinara sauce, zucchini, 1/4 pound of mozzarella and 1/8 cup pecorino-romano, and toss until well combined.
  4. Top with the remaining sauce and sprinkle on the remaining cheeses. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake until the cheese on top is melted and slightly browned, 8-10 minutes.