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Vegetable Pasta Bake

Vegetable Pasta Bake

There is something so comforting about a big bowl of cheesy, sauce covered pasta. Growing up my family always had pasta on Sunday night. Years after living with my parents, I still have a secret craving for carbs come the end of the weekend.

While most vegetable pasta bakes I've seen include peppers, onions and maybe some squash, I went in a different direction. Short cut rigatoni gets tossed with earthy roasted mushrooms, sautéed garlic kale and creamy eggplant mash. Of course, it's all smothered in ricotta cheese and tomato sauce with a layer of fresh mozzarella and parmesan to top it off. 

To all the eggplant haters, if bitterness is the issue, try salting the eggplant first. The salt draws out the bitter liquid which you then rinse away. I tried it in all my iterations and maybe I just had delicious eggplants to start but I thought they tasted particularly good.


Vegetable Pasta Bake

Short cut rigatoni tossed with earthy roasted mushrooms, sautéed garlic kale and creamy eggplant mash

Serves: 8 - 10

Vegetable Pasta Bake

Ingredients:
  • 2 globe eggplants
  • 10 ounces baby bella mushrooms, quartered
  • 1/2 bunch kale (4-5 leaves - stems removed), small chopped
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons Italian Seasoning, divided
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 pound mezzi rigatoni (or another short tube pasta)
  • 15 ounces part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella
  • 3 1/2 cups tomato sauce
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, for seasoning

Instructions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease a 13 x 9 baking dish
  2. Slice the eggplants in half lengthwise and use a paring knife to cut two vertical cuts down the flesh about 3/4 way through. Then make a few diagonal cuts down the eggplant
  3. Optional Step: Generously salt the cut eggplant sides and allow to sit for approximately 1 hour - moisture will form on top. Rinse the moisture and salt off with cold water and thoroughly dry off with a paper towel. This removes some excess moisture and reduces the bitter flavor of eggplant
  4. Brush approximately 2 tablespoons olive oil on the cut sides of the eggplant and place them cut side down on a baking sheet
  5. Place the mushrooms on a second baking sheet and drizzle on 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt, pepper and 3/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  6. Bake the eggplant for 1 hour (1 hour 10 minutes for large eggplants). It should be easy to scoop out and soft throughout. 35 minutes into cooking, add the mushrooms and cook for 25 minutes
  7. While the vegetables are roasting, boil a large pot of salted water. Cook the pasta for half the amount of time indicated on the box. Drain and place in a large bowl
  8. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a large skillet. When the oil is hot, add the garlic and cook until fragrant (about a minute). Add the kale, stir and add 2 tablespoons water. Cover and cook until the kale is wilted - about 5 - 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add to the bowl with the pasta
  9. In a small bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, 1/4 cup parmesan cheese and the egg. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Set aside
  10. When the eggplant and mushrooms are done, take them out of the oven. Add the mushrooms to the large bowl
  11. Let the eggplant cool until you are able to handle it
  12. While the eggplant is cooling, slice half the fresh mozzarella into 6 slices and cube the remaining half. Add the cubes to the bowl with the pasta and vegetables
  13. Scrape the eggplant out of the skin and place in a small bowl. Use a fork to mash any remaining pieces or strings (mine was smooth after an hour)
  14. Season the eggplant mash with salt, pepper, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  15. Stir everything in the bowl (mushrooms, kale, pasta, mozzarella cubes) together. Add half the ricotta mixture and half the eggplant. Carefully stir to combine.
  16. Add the tomato sauce and stir so everything is evenly coated. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper.
  17. Add half the pasta to the prepared baking dish. Spoon dollops of the eggplant mash and the ricotta over the pasta. Top with the remaining pasta
  18. Sprinkle the rest of the parmesan cheese on top and evenly place the slices of mozzarella
  19. Tent the dish with aluminum foil to prevent the cheese from sticking and bake for 30 minutes
  20. After 30 minutes, remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes
  21. Let the dish cool for 5 minutes before serving. Top with more grated parmesan if desired


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