by Erin Walgamuth
This recipe is for a casserole that I threw together over the Christmas holiday when we had a commitment-free evening - which I must say, were few and far between!
The lovely thing about this dish is that it can be customized easily. I have made it with sliced sweet Italian chicken sausage, and have made it vegetarian. Last night, since I didn’t have sausage, I included grated fresh zucchini, and it was delicious!
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Week nights can be very busy and complicated with work, sports and homework. Simple Pasta and Zucchini Casserole is a dinner you can have on the table in less than an hour. All you need to add is a salad to complete the meal. Enjoy!
Prep-time is about 20 minutes
Cook time is 35 minutes
Set oven to 350 degrees
You will need-
8-10 quart pot for cooking pasta
Salt for the pasta water
Large rubber or silicon spatula
Vegetable cooking spray
13x9 glass baking dish
16 oz penne pasta cooked ‘al dente’
26 oz of your favorite pre-made marinara sauce
1 cup grated fresh zucchini
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
Note: ‘Al dente’ refers to the texture of the pasta. It means that there is some resistance to the pasta when you bite into it - as in slightly underdone. In this case, the pasta will finish cooking in the oven.
I add salt to my pasta water by taste. I usually start with a few teaspoons for an 8 quart pot and go from there. You can adjust the amount to your taste. Lots of recipes recommend the water taste like sea water, but that is up to you.
Cook the pasta according to manufacture’s directions to achieve ‘al dente’. I cooked mine for 8 minutes.
While the pasta is cooking grate the zucchini and measure out the cheeses.
Spray the sides and bottom of the 13x9 baking dish with the vegetable spray.
Pre-heat the oven.
Pour cooked pasta into the colander and drain out all of the water. Put the pasta back into the pot and pour the marinara sauce over the hot pasta. Use the spatula to thoroughly combine the sauce with the hot pasta. Pour the pasta into the greased 13x9 baking dish and spread out evenly with the spatula.
Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese evenly over the pasta and sauce. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese evenly over the mozzarella cheese. Use the teaspoon to drop dollops of ricotta cheese over the mozzarella and parmesan cheeses.
Bake the casserole in a pre-heated oven for approximately 35 minutes, or until cheeses are melted with golden brown spots and a bit bubbly. I let the casserole cool for 10 minutes before I serve it since it was very hot!
Erin Walgamuth  has been an assistant Food Stylist for television and print for the past 26 years and writes this column using her own recipes. Check out her other creations in our Hometown Recipe  section.