Here’s a crowd-pleasing casserole that will appeal to all ages and satisfy vegetarians and meat eaters alike.
Pasta always works.
This baked rigatoni is a grown-up version of macaroni and cheese. The tomato sauce, judiciously spiced with hot red-pepper flakes and embellished with diced yellow bell pepper and pungent black olives, is easy and straightforward. It keeps for three or four days in the refrigerator, so you can make it ahead, or you can toss it right away with the rigatoni (cooked until just al dente) and cheeses (Gruyère and Parmesan).
Spread the mixture in an oiled baking dish, cover it well and refrigerate. The fully assembled casserole will be fine in the refrigerator for a day, ready to transfer to the oven when the hungry troops begin to ask what’s for dinner.
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Bake the rigatoni mixture until bubbly, make a green salad to serve alongside and everybody will be happy.
Baked Rigatoni With Tomatoes, Olives and Pepper
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes; yield: 6 servings. Note: Dish can be assembled until it’s ready to go into the oven a day in advance and refrigerated. Add 5 to 10 minutes baking time if transferring directly from refrigerator to oven.
1 (28-ounce) can tomatoes, whole or diced, with juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, more for oiling baking dish
1 large sweet yellow pepper, cut in 1/2-inch dice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons slivered fresh basil (optional)
1 pound rigatoni
3 ounces Gruyère, grated (3/4 cup)
1 ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup)
Pulse tomatoes with juice in a food processor to a coarse purée. Put a large pot of water on to boil.
In a large heavy skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat and add yellow pepper. Cook, stirring often, until tender, 5 to 8 minutes. Add garlic, thyme and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute.
Add tomatoes, sugar and salt to taste, and turn up heat to medium-high. When tomatoes begin to bubble briskly and sputter, turn heat to medium. Cook, stirring often, until tomatoes have cooked down to a fragrant, thick sauce, about 15 minutes. Add olives, black pepper and basil, stir together, taste and adjust seasoning.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 2 1/2- to 3-quart baking dish or gratin with olive oil.
When water in pot comes to a boil, salt generously and add rigatoni. Cook al dente, removing from the water 1 minute sooner than indicated in the package instructions. (Reserve some of the cooking water.) Transfer pasta to a large bowl.
If the tomato sauce seems very thick, thin out as desired with 2 to 4 tablespoons pasta cooking water. Scrape into bowl with pasta, add cheeses and toss well. Scrape into prepared baking dish. Drizzle remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil over the top. Cover with foil.
Bake 25 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake another 5 to 10 minutes, until bubbly and beginning to brown in spots. Serve hot.