This pasta recipe is a one pot wonder, I tell ya! I make a lot of pasta dishes…2-3 times a week…but this one is special. My kids were the most enthusiastic eaters and Brad declared it to be “most special pasta” ever. Whoa! I have no idea what I did right and but I am guessing simple store bought pesto elevated a regular pasta bake to something AMAZING!
And the best thing is this pasta is quick…a true midweek hero! This was cooked after I got home from work so you can understand I had no energy for things fancy yet fancy I got. I love when that happens with no effort at all.
You know what else is great about this pasta dish? It’s delicious and sophisticated enough for a dinner party. Just throw in some nice bread, olives or any antipasti you love and your guests will be endlessly impressed. I am not exaggerating in the least, they will feel like they’ve attended a nice Italian restaurant. Wouldn’t you if you were served a plate of this?
You can make this with any short pasta you like or have on hand but let me tell you why shells are the best: they are cute and bite-sized but the most amazing thing is that they serve as little scoops that hold that delicious meat sauce oh…so…perfectly.
If you are hesitant about combining tomato sauce and pesto I understand. I was too…after all it’s one or another, right? Fortunately I still decided to give it a go and what I realised was that pesto infused the meat sauce with gorgeous basil flavour while the cheese and pine nuts gave it a more creamy and luscious texture. That is why this pasta bake is NOT ordinary!
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion chopped
- 4-5 fresh basil leaves or 1 tsp dried basil
- 1 lbs ground beef extra-lean
- 2 cups/800 gr/2 cans chopped tomatoes
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup/ 125 ml store-bought pesto
- 1 lbs pasta shells
- 1 1/2 cups/150 gr mozzarella grated
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- Heat the oven to 400F/200C.
- Cook chopped onion in olive oil over low heat for 5-7 minutes until soft but not coloured.
- Add ground beef and cook, stirring it the whole until no longer pink.
- Add, salt, chopped basil and canned tomatoes, bring to a boil and then turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes, stir one in a while and break up any large tomato chunks with a wooden spoon.
- While the sauce is simmering, cook the shells in a large pot according to package instructions. It's important not to overcook pasta but cook it al dente as it will be further cooked in the oven.
- At the end of cooking time stir pesto into the sauce and take it off the heat.
- Drain pasta and gently toss it with the sauce in the same pot the pasta was cooked in.
- Put half of the pasta in the baking dish and sprinkle with half of mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Top it up with the remaining pasta and sprinkle with more mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Bake in the oven for 15 minutes until cheese is golden and pasta is hot and bubbly.
*The recipe is slightly adapted from Food & Wine magazine cookbook.