There is so much delicious, local produce available right now. But do you think you could get your kids to eat peppers, zucchini, red onions, and tomatoes all in one meal?
If not – I have a vegetable-packed recipe proven to work on the even pickiest little eaters! This pasta recipe involves caramelizing seasonal vegetables to make them even more delicious and sweet, and then pureeing them with a strained tomato product called passata. Texture is everything when it comes to feeding kids, and I’ve found you can hide all manner of vegetables when everything is pureed into a nice, homogenous sauce. To make this recipe really foolproof, the pasta is covered with shredded mozzarella, and baked in the oven for a blistered, crunchy topping of molten cheese.
Trust me, your kids will be asking for seconds of this cheesy tomato pasta bake.
Best yet, the versatility of this recipe allow you to use rice pasta if you’re gluten-free, or traditional wheat if you don’t have a gluten sensitivity or allergy.
Cheesy Vegetable Pasta Bake
Makes 6 Servings
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 red onion, roughly chopped
2 shepherd peppers, seeds and ribs removed and roughly chopped
2 small zucchinis, top and tailed, quartered lengthwise and roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2 tbsp. tomato paste
½ jar (340 mL) passata
200 mL water
½ tsp. salt
454 g. (1 lb.) short rice pasta like fusilli or penne (or whole wheat pasta)
170 g. mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced or shredded
Put a large pot of well-salted water to boil.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Heat oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot until shimmering.
Add red onion and ¼ tsp. of salt. Toss onion in the oil, and cook over medium-low heat for 5 – 8 minutes until soft.
Add the shepherd peppers and zucchini, and continue cooking for 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
You want nice caramelized vegetables here, which lend a wonderful, complex and sweet flavour.
Add the garlic and tomato paste, and cook until the garlic is fragrant and the tomato paste has darkened in colour, 1 – 2 minutes.
Add your passata, ¼ tsp. salt and water.
Turn heat to low, cover and cook for 10 minutes. This is plenty of time since the vegetables are already cooked, and is really just so that the flavours can meld together.
While the sauce is cooking, cook your pasta to al dente, drain and rinse with cold water (DO NOT RINSE if using wheat pasta).
The sauce can be served chunky, but if you’re serving it to kids, I’d highly recommend pureeing it. Let the sauce cool slightly and transfer to your blender. Pulse the sauce to your desired level of smoothness.
Return your sauce back to the pot, along with the pasta. Toss everything to combine.
Transfer pasta to a 9 x 9 inch baking dish, and cover evenly with mozzarella cheese
Place on middle rack in preheated oven, and bake until the sauce is bubbling around the sides and the cheese has browned slightly, 15 – 20 minutes.