Creamy Caprese Pasta Bake


It’s been a while since I had a garden. Probably 7 or 8 years. While I don’t remember a ton from the two raised bed gardens I had at my house on Spokane Street, I do remember growing a massive parsley bush and yielding a ton of tomatoes. The important thing is I don’t particularly remember failing at anything. Which brings me to this year, which has pretty much been a gardening failure.

Let’s start with the strawberries. I planted three different strawberry plants. I think only one yielded fruit. And they were the size of raspberries. My raspberry bush produced maybe 20 raspberries total. Over the course of a few weeks. I planted another berry bush that produced zero berries whatsoever.

On the flip side, my cilantro grew so fast it bolted and I never got to use it. My dill shot up the side of my house and got woody and started to fall over. My tomatoes began exploding so I cut off some branches, stuck them in water to grow some roots and then planted about a dozen more tomato plants. While they are producing fruit, they are taking fooooorrrrreeeevvvveeeerrrr to ripen. Many of them have bottom rot.

My green onions grew too big. My walla-walla and yellow onions didn’t grow enough. I have no clue what happened to the artichoke or tarragon I planted. I must have thought they were weeds and pulled them, I suppose. My dinosaur kale is doing well but my sister’s dog has pretty much knocked it over. The one thing that is growing marvelously is my lavender. Which I don’t use. Hmph!

Lastly, I purchased three different basil plants. One took forever to grow a modest amount. The other was advertised to be an indoor plant but I kept drying it out. I placed it in my kitchen window which juts out from my house and provides a little greenhouse-like effect for plants. I didn’t realize I had to water the basil plant every day. Eventually the plants stalks turned a bit brown and the leaves, small in stature, a yellow-green. I decided to plant it in my raised bed, after I made room by pulling out all of my onions, to see if I could recover its health. My third plant is still in the planter. It feels too late in the season to plant it outside, but I can’t seem figure out how to grow them indoors either. Which leads me to the need to eat the basil. Which leads me to this recipe.

I would have liked to have used tomatoes from my garden for this recipe but see earlier paragraphs about my gardening disaster of 2021. All my tomatoes are still green though I planted them in April. (WTH?) Luckily I had copious amounts of basil to use, a variety of pasta shapes to choose from, plenty of canned tomatoes in my cupboard, and a large tub of Fresh Mozzarella balls that were calling my name.

I did a lot of research on caprese pasta recipes before attempting this dish. I did not intend to make this dish using a creamy sauce. I added it last minute because I didn’t like that the no-dairy sauce was not coating the pasta.

This dish is really flexible. You could (probably) omit the cream and make more sauce and/or use more pasta water. You could add cheese to the pasta while mixing all of the ingredients before pouring into the baking dish. Lots of recipes I spotted either called for shredded mozzarella or parmesan cheese. You could go hog wild and use both. I used two handfuls of basil but you could add more. Or you could add other herbs (but then it wouldn’t be all that caprese-y, maybe). You could add chicken or Italian sausage if you would like some protein. If you like spice, you could bump up the heat with plenty of red chili flakes. You could douse the dish in a ton of fresh mozzarella and broil it for the last few minutes to get a crusty top.

Dad and Sis and I all agreed this dish was fan-freaking-tastic and had a second helping. I ended up liking the creamy marinara sauce, despite the fact that I wasn’t originally happy I had to add it.

Want to impress friends and family? Make this dish!

ingredients.

  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • Two pinches basil
  • Two pinches oregano
  • salt to taste
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • garlic, at least 2 cloves, minced
  • red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 16 oz cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 16 oz pasta, your favorite shape
  • 1 c. reserved pasta water
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 2 handfuls fresh basil, torn
  • 8 to 12 oz fresh mozzarella

directions.

  1. Make the sauce: Cook crushed tomatoes in saucepan over medium-low heat. Season with dried basil and oregano. Salt to taste. Once heated through, allow the sauce to simmer on the stovetop on low heat until ready to use.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium-sized sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add garlic (I used 4 cloves) and red chili pepper flakes, if using. Add tomatoes and cook until tomatoes have softened or burst.
  3. While the sauce and tomatoes are cooking, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook pasta two minutes less than al dente. Drain.
  4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  5. Add tomato sauce and tomato and garlic mixture to cooked pasta, one at a time, stirring to combine. Add reserved pasta water and mix. Add heavy cream and torn basil; stir to combine. Taste and season with additional salt, if necessary.
  6. Pour pasta into 9×13-inch baking dish. Shove some fresh mozzarella down toward the bottom of the baking dish and then top with additional fresh mozzarella. I didn’t measure here. I just used as much as what was left in my massive Costco tub.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes or until mozzarella has melted and sauce is bubbling up on the side. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.

Recipe rating: 

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