Total prep time: about 25 minutes
Total cook time: 15 minutes
If you love a good baked pasta dish, then you need to try this recipe. I found it in one of my Food and Wine Quick from Scratch Cookbooks. It takes a few minutes to make a simple tomato sauce with ground beef which you can do while your pasta is cooking. Then you add the pesto – which by the way is a match made in heaven with tomato sauce. If you are unfamiliar with pesto, I strongly recommend you give it a try. You can make it from scratch but it is just as tasty and much less trouble to buy it at the store. You can find it next to the pasta sauces at any grocery store. It's basically basil, garlic, olive oil and pine nuts all blended to make a beautiful green sauce. So you combine the simple homemade meat sauce with the pesto and layer it with Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. It takes about 15 minutes to bake and you have a wonderful dinner - made from scratch. It is delicious by itself or together with a nice piece of crunchy garlic bread and tossed salad. It makes a 13 x 9 inch baking dish and we always have leftovers to pack for the next day’s lunch.
Here is what you will need:
1 tablespoon of oil (I use olive)
1 small onion, chopped
1 pound of ground beef
1 28 ounce can of chopped tomatoes, drained
1 ½ teaspoons of salt
½ cup of store bought pesto
¾ pound of medium sized pasta shells
2 cups of shredded mozzarella
½ cup shredded Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 400. Spray a 13 x 9 inch pan with cooking spray. Put the water on to boil for the shells, I like to salt my water it flavors the pasta nicely (about 2-3 teaspoons should do it). After it starts boiling, add the shells and cook for 10 minutes.
While you are waiting for the water to boil, heat the oil over medium low heat in a large frying pan. Add the onion and cook it until it’s translucent and soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add the ground beef into the pan and stir it often, making sure you don’t have any big chunks of beef. Cook it until it is all nice and brown, about 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes (make sure you drain the extra juice off so your pasta won’t be swimming) and the salt and bring it to a simmer (where you see a few bubbles in the sauce but NOT a boil). Take it off the heat and add in the pesto. Combine the shells and sauce together (I usually just drain the shells, and then combine it all in the large pot that I used to boil the shells – less to clean later).
Put half of the pasta mixture into your large baking dish and put half of the mozzarella and half of the Parmesan on top. Then pour the rest of the pasta mixture on top of that and top it all off with the remaining Mozzarella and Parmesan. Bake it for about 12-15 minutes or until it is golden brown and bubbling. If your cheese browns too quickly and it hasn’t started bubbling yet, you can cover it loosely with a sheet of aluminum foil. It will continue cooking but it won’t get too brown.