Penne pasta baked with bites of zucchini, ricotta cheese, red onion, red bell pepper and garlic in a creamy Parmesan cheese sauce studded with mozzarella.
More ricotta is dolloped over the top where it melts into delectable little puddles.
Before I dive into the recipe we’re going to talk Parmesan cheese because I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what kind I use. Most of the time I buy a block of Parmigiana-Reggiano and grate it myself. That’s the best – it’s the original Parmesan cheese made in Italy.
Because it’s a bit pricey and sometimes not available depending on where I’m shopping, I buy a block of “plain” Parmesan cheese – it won’t have Reggiano in the name – and grate it myself.
The most important thing is to grate it yourself – the stuff you buy already grated is full of fillers that can mess up your recipe – especially when making a sauce. It can turn goopy and lumpy – it doesn’t always melt well.
So onto the recipe! The first thing to do is to get the pasta water going and work on the sauce while the pasta cooks.
The sauce is made by sauteing the onion, pepper, and garlic together then adding a bit of butter and flour to thicken it. Whole milk is whisked in followed by Italian seasoning and fresh grated Parmesan plus a touch of lemon zest to brighten everything up.
The cooked pasta, sauce, cubed zucchini, ricotta, and mozzarella is mixed together and dumped into a greased pan to bake with spoons of ricotta dropped on top.
It bakes up creamy and delicious studded with fresh veggies and just the perfect amount of cheese so it’s not heavy or overpowering.
Perfect enough for a summer meal and easy enough for a busy weeknight.
- 8 ounces penne pasta
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ⅓ cup diced red onion
- 1 diced red bell pepper
- 3 cloves minced garlic
- sea kosher salt and fresh black pepper
- 2 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing the pan
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- ½ teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ⅓ cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese (from a wedge), plus more for serving
- ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest (just the yellow layer not the white pith)
- 2 - 3 cups cubed zucchini
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- 15 ounces Ricotta cheese, divided
- Cook the pasta according to package directions to al dente. Drain and toss with a pat of butter or a drizzle of oil to prevent sticking.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 9x9-inch baking or casserole pan.
- Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized frying pan over medium heat and cook the onion, bell pepper
andgarlic with a couple dashes each of salt and pepper until softened about 5 minutes, stirring often.
- Melt in the butter then stir in the flour and cook 2 - 3 minutes stirring often.
- Slowly stir in the milk. Turn the heat up slightly and bring to a simmer. Simmer 3 - 4 minutes, stirring often.
- Stir in the Italian seasoning, Parmesan cheese
and½ teaspoon salt plus ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Remove from the heat. Stir in the lemon zest.
- Stir the pasta, the sauce, 1 cup of the ricotta, the mozzarella and zucchini together.
- Spoon it into the casserole dish and dollop spoonfuls of the remaining ricotta on top.
- Bake 25 minutes. Serve with more Parmesan cheese on top.