There is something truly comforting about a good bowl of warm pasta all tomatoey and cheesy that just screams comfort food. How then can one take a feel good pasta and make it veggie healthy as well? Add in finely cut vegetables and bake with some gooey cheese and no one will ever know that the pasta is loaded with good for you vegetables! This pasta is packed with eggplant and fennel but you could easily try this recipe with any of your favorite vegetables like bell peppers, mushrooms, cauliflower, and zucchini just to give you a few ideas. Really an easy and delicious pasta bake this is and I can’t wait to share the recipe with you!
Ina Garten: My all-time favorite celebrity chef!
The inspiration for this eggplant pasta bake comes from Ina Garten of Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa. Can I just start off by mentioning that I absolutely love watching Ina Garten’s show. Even though eighty percent of her recipes are meat-based and me being vegetarian I can’t really make them, I still love her show. I love listening to her soothing voice, watching her cook in her beautiful kitchen, her way of making everything she cooks look so beautiful and appetizing, and her philosophy of cooking with love for her husband and all her friends. It’s an old-fashioned philosphy and yet still so relevant today in our fast-paced lifestyle. Ina Garten is just a feel-good tonic especially on cold wintery days. I love watching her show when its cloudy and rainy outside, somehow it always makes me feel good and gets me motivated to make something delicious.
This recipe is one of Ina’s newer ones that spoke to me right away. For one it’s a pasta dish, two it is very easy to make, and three its vegetarian! This is an easy recipe that is delicious and comforting. I did re-recipefy it a little. For example Ina recommends adding canned tomatoes and fresh herbs to the pasta but I just went the easy route and added a jar of delicious store-bought marinara sauce. Look at it folks, store bought marinara sauces are the best! Loaded with tomatoes, garlic, herbs and cooked to perfection, it’s an easy way to use marinara sauce in any dish that requires it. And the best part is that they are so affordable, sometimes I can buy a jar for just $2.50!!
As for the process? My gosh this pasta can’t get any easier! Just chop up eggplant, onions, garlic and fennel. Sauté everything in olive oil until the veggies are tender. Add in the marinara sauce, cooked pasta and cheese, and bake! That’s it! Delicious, easy, and super healthy this pasta is! Give it a try! Here is a recipe for the most delicious and satisfying eggplant pasta bake ever!
Eggplant Fennel Pasta Bake
- 1 large globe or Italian eggplant cut into small cubes or use 4 Japanese eggplants
- 1 fennel bulb cut into small cubes
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 6 garlic cloves minced
- Chili flakes as much as you want
- 1 lb penne pasta
- 1 jar of marinara sauce
- Mozzarella cheese – as much as you want. I used 2 cups of cut fresh mozzarella
- 1 cup finely shredded or ground Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Before draining pasta save 2-3 cups of pasta water. Set aside.
- In large pot heat 4 tbsp olive oil. Add the onions and fennel, and chili flakes if using and cook for about 5 minutes until veggies are tender. Next add the eggplant, garlic, salt and pepper and continue cook for an additional 10 minutes until the eggplant is tender.
- Add the jar of marinara sauce and all the cooked pasta plus 2 cups of pasta water. Mix everything together and warm through.
- Transfer half of the pasta onto a baking dish. Evenly distribute half of the mozzarella cheese. Pour the remainder of the pasta over the cheese and top with remainder of mozzarella and then sprinkle all the Parmesan cheese. Drizzle with olive oil or a few pieces of butter. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes until cheese is melted.
- Cooke’s notes: Since I made my pasta in a Dutch oven I baked my pasta directly in the same pot.
- After 20 minutes take out of oven and serve warm with your favorite wine. 🍷
Bon Appetito! 🍷🍝