Someone taught my baby to say “stop it.” Life with a seventeen-month-old is undignified enough, I feel, without irate admonitions issuing from the tiny person over every little thing. Like when I try to change her diaper (“Stop it!”). Like when I take a ballpoint pen away (“Stop it!). Like when I insist that her carseat straps be buckled for travel (“No no no no STOP IT!”).
Imagine how she feels, though. She’s the baby in a family of five. We tell her to stop every time she innocently tries to tear a page from a book, or color on the table, or suck on the bottom of a delectable shoe. We may both be saying the same words, but there are days when we’re not exactly speaking the same language. Luckily, I can’t ever get down about it, because at the first sign of sadness this same baby rushes across the room, arms outstretched, yelling “Hug! Hug!” Hopefully she learned that from us, too.
At times like these, comfort food is occasionally in order for the whole family. And is there any comfort food that compares to baked pasta? I guess roasted vegetables, maybe, so I’ve combined the two here to hedge my bets. The children can pick out the cheesy pasta parts and I can console myself with all the eggplant that’s left in pan.There are a few secrets to this dish. The first is that everything must taste good alone to taste good together, so season your vegetables well and cook your pasta in salted water. The next secret is that some fresh mozzarella cheese tastes like rubber and some fresh mozzarella cheese tastes like the Italian countryside. Purchase the latter. If in doubt, look for the words “buffalo mozzarella” and buy that. Finally, keep in mind that everything will continue cooking in the oven, so drain the pasta while it is still al dente.
Baked Pasta with Roasted Vegetables and Fresh Mozzarella: Chop a pound of eggplant into 3/4″ cubes. Slice a pound of cherry tomatoes in half. Toss separately with olive oil and a few pinches of salt and roast on separate trays in the oven at 350 for an hour, until soft and delicious. (I like to place all the cherry tomatoes cut-side-up to retain their juices, but that might be too persnickety for you.)
Chop a red onion and a red pepper and cook over high heat on the stove with a few pinches of salt until soft and browned, then add 2 cloves chopped garlic and cook another minute. Meanwhile, cook ¾ lb. short pasta in salted water until al dente and drain. When all the vegetables are ready, stir them all together with the pasta and a few big handfuls of finely grated Parmesan and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Oil a 9×13 baking dish and spread half the pasta mixture over the bottom, then nestle cubes of mozzarella in and over the pasta. Top with the remaining pasta and another layer of mozzarella cubes (I used 12 oz. mozzarella in all). Bake at 350 until cheese has melted and begins to brown. Shower the dish with freshly-sliced threads of basil and allow to sit a few moments before serving.
“The first is that everything must taste good alone to taste good together,”- that’s the line that says it all. Good food writing and an excellent simple recipe.
Well, what a nice compliment. Thank you!
Love it! Perfect dish for the rainy, chilly day we are having here in St. Louis. Though we have had a lot of pasta lately, according to my husband. Might have to do it another day and make something else warm and comforting for today…
I do find that I go through phases where I cook a lot of one thing. You can file this away for your next pasta bender! :)
Just the recipe to help me use up some of my half dozen eggplants still hanging expectantly in the garden.
I love your writing and voice so much that your post is making me yearn for a third child! The baked pasta looks delicious, too. xo, Sonya
Hahaha! Oh Emmy, I do remember those days. Love the pasta. Sounds delicious!
That almost-empty serving dish says it all — this is good food! Meals like this make for a great family dinner, and there’s almost over something left over for your lunch the next day.
Ditto! I was going to comment your first sentiments verbatim!
I love that this dish was almost finished before you took the photo! It looks like it was great!
Stop it, stop it, stop it….this sounds delicious!
Looks like everything was gone before you had a change to take a photo. Sounds like it was a delicious.