Pasta bake is a great family meal for dinner made fresh, and the great thing is that you can portion out the leftovers and freeze them to defrost, microwave and eat later!
In this pasta bake, I stick with the usual tomato pasta sauce and cheesy topping (as I believe everyone should). I also add sautéed onion, garlic, chilli pepper and cocktail sausages to make it more filling. I also like to mix some fresh herbs such as basil, oregano and thyme in with the sauce for extra flavour. You can use dried herbs instead (I’d recommend an Italian herb blend) or just leave them out if you feel that your sauce doesn’t need any extra flavour. Tomato puree boosts the tomato flavour of the sauce as store bought sauce is often fairly weak.
I use chilli peppers as my only veggie aside from the essential onion due to my dietary restrictions. However, if you don’t have this set diet then go ahead and use all the veggies you want. This recipe is especially great for getting kids to eat veggies as you can cut them up absolutely tiny! After all, if you can’t see the veggies then you won’t know to complain about them being there!
If you plan on freezing portions of the pasta bake, then it’s definitely worth using extra sauce to prevent it from becoming dry in the freezer – it’s like magic how suddenly things with tons of sauce just disappear the moment you freeze them!
The great thing about this recipe is how customisable it is:
– you can use a different type of pasta (I like conchiglie as it holds the sauce and other ingredients very well)
– more veggies (perhaps red bell pepper, peas, corn, carrot or green beans?)
– a different meat (you could experiment with ham, bacon, chicken or a meatless substitute such as quorn)
This makes this recipe very versatile as you could potentially make one large batch of pasta and sauce, and then split it to use different add-ins to suit different people’s tastes, or simply for variety. If you’d really like, you could also swap the mozzarella for another melty cheese or a vegan version. My sisters like cheddar on theirs, but really any good melty cheese works well. Fresh mozzarella freezes better than packaged grated cheese – it stays more moist and gooey, so I definitely recommend fresh balls of mozzarella over grated.
Chilli & Sausage Mozzarella Pasta Bake
- 400 g mini pasta shells
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 4 chilli peppers deseeded and thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 medium white/yellow onion chopped
- 2 tsp Tomato puree double concentrate
- 15 Cocktail sausages finely chopped
- 1 handful Fresh Basil chopped
- 1 small handful Fresh thyme chopped
- 1 small handful Fresh oregano chopped
- 1 kg Tomato pasta sauce
- salt and pepper to season
- 2 x 220g Fresh mozzarella balls sliced
- Preheat the oven to 180°C.
- Add the conchiglie to salted boiling water and cook for 3 minutes less than packet instructions or until still slightly rubbery and firm.
- Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add chilli peppers, garlic and onion and sauté 5 minutes or until the onion is almost translucent but still retains some colour. Add the tomato puree and sausages and mix in thoroughly.
- Add 1/3 pasta sauce and the herbs and allow it to warm through, then add the cooked pasta and stir well. Add the rest of the sauce and mix it in. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add all the pasta mix to a large shallow dish and place the slices of mozzarella over the top. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until the cheese is melted and slightly golden.