One of me and Joe's favorite indulgences is a penne vodka pizza from a local pizzeria. It's creamy penne vodka pasta and mozzarella cheese piled on a pizza crust and it is heaven. So when I saw the Italian Pasta Bake in the December-January issue of Everyday with Rachael Ray I immediately thought of our favorite pizza and knew I had to give the recipe a try. I had to wait until after Christmas, when I finally got my springform pan, but armed with the proper tools I was ready to make this delicious-looking dinner.
And it certainly was delicious! But with 1 lb. of mozzarella cheese, 1 cup of parmesan cheese and a cup of heavy cream, how could it be bad? This is certainly NOT a diet dish, but it was a fun weekend treat and it makes a TON of food. This recipe does not take a long time to prepare, but needs 40 minutes to bake and 30 minutes to rest before slicing so be sure you start prepping this about 2 hours before you actually plan to eat, but it's worth the time. Next time I make this I will make sure I fit the bread on top of the pasta tighter, so it comes out more like pie crust instead of pieces of bread on top of pasta.
Italian Pasta Bake
2 loaves day-old Italian country bread, crusts discarded, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 pound rigatoni or ziti pasta
4 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 cup frozen peas (I omitted)
One 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Preheat the oven to 375º. Grease a 10-inch springform pan or 4-quart ovenproof bowl. Line the bottom and sides of the pan with bread slices, fitting them tightly; reserve several bread slices for the top.
In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the peas and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and heavy cream, mixing until combined, and bring to a simmer. Set aside 1 cup of the sauce. Drain the pasta, add to the sauce in the skillet and toss to coat. Stir in the mozzarella and half of the parmesan. Season with salt. Pour the pasta into the bread-lined pan, pressing down with a wooden spoon.
Cover with the remaining bread slices. Sprinkle the remaining parmesan on top and dot with the remaining 2 tablespoons butter.