Easy Baked Pesto Pasta for Labor Day

This pasta is a true crowd-pleaser: rigatoni in a simple homemade pesto sauce, layered with zucchini, tomatoes, red peppers and Asiago cheese from Food Network.

Pasta casseroles are perhaps the finest combination of weeknight convenience and classic comfort food. This one is a true crowd-pleaser: rigatoni in a simple homemade pesto sauce, layered with zucchini, tomatoes, red peppers and Asiago cheese, then baked until bubbly.

While traditional pasta casseroles can be heavy and filled with cheese, this one is on the lighter side. To cut down on calories without sacrificing flavor, make the homemade pesto sauce with half of the usual oil and cheese. Reserved pasta water is swirled in at the end, creating a thick, luscious sauce to coat the cooked noodles and roasted vegetables.

For easy entertaining, this casserole can be assembled a day before. Make the pesto, then cook the noodles and the vegetables. Right before baking, stir together as directed. Make-ahead options like this make healthy eating a snap and entertaining a breeze.

Baked Pesto Pasta

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients:

2 medium zucchini, sliced in half, then sliced into 1/2-inch half-moons

1 red pepper, cored and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 pound ziti, penne or rigatoni (preferably whole wheat)

1/2 cup shredded Asiago or Parmesan cheese

Pesto:

2 cups spinach

2 cups torn basil

1/2 cup almonds

1/3 cup olive oil

1/4 cup shredded Asiago or Parmesan cheese

2 garlic cloves, chopped

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup reserved pasta water

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss the zucchini slices, peppers and tomatoes with 1 teaspoon olive oil and a small pinch of salt and pepper. Add the vegetables to a glass roasting dish and roast until just crispy and browned, about 20 minutes.

While the vegetables are cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup water.

To make the pesto, combine all of the pesto ingredients in a food processor and puree until fairly smooth with just a little bit of texture left. If using premade pesto, you will need about 2 cups.

In a large bowl, toss together the cooked pasta, pesto and cooked vegetables. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water to make a sauce. Transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes at 400 degrees F until hot and cheese is melted.

Per serving (1/8 of the casserole, or 210 g): Calories 350; Fat 18 g (Saturated 4 g); Cholesterol 54 mg; Fiber 2 g; Protein 13 g

Get more healthy dish ideas:

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Alex Caspero MA, RD, RYT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Yoga Teacher. She is the founder of Delish Knowledge (delishknowledge.com), a resource for healthy, whole-food vegetarian recipes. In her private coaching practice, she helps individuals find their “Happy Weight.”

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