This tomato pasta bake is comforting and cheesy (actually, those two words are sorta synonymous, yes?!) and ingeniously designed to do double-duty at dinnertime. The tomato sauce base for the pasta is actually a hearty vegetable soup, filled with tomatoes, eggplant, and fennel, and it makes an enormous batch so you can enjoy the pasta one night, and have plenty of soup left over for the next. Or stash it in your freezer for the future as it freezes and reheats magnificently.–Angie Zoobkoff
Baked Pasta with Tomatoes & Eggplant
For the tomato soup
- Olive oil
- 4 1/2 cups unpeeled eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch (12-mm) dice
- 2 cups chopped yellow onion
- 2 cups chopped fennel bulb
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic, from about 6 cloves
- 3 cups canned chicken broth or homemade chicken stock
- One (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
- 2 teaspoons whole dried fennel seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon thyme leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- One (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
- Freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, for serving
For the baked pasta
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 8 ounces penne rigate and/or fusilli
- 3 cups tomato soup (see preceding recipe)
- 4 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch (12-mm) cubes
- 5 tablespoons freshly grated Italian Parmesan cheese, divided
- 2 tablespoons (1 oz) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Make the tomato soup
- In a medium pot or Dutch oven set over medium heat, warm 1/2 cup oil. Add the eggplant and sauté until tender, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes. If the eggplant sticks to the pot, add a little more oil.
- Add 2 tablespoons more oil to the pot along with the onions and fennel, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender but not browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring often, for 1 minute. Stir in the chicken stock, crushed tomatoes, fennel seeds, oregano, thyme, red pepper flakes, 1 tablespoon salt, and 2 teaspoons black pepper.
- Pour the can of whole tomatoes, including the liquid, into a food processor and pulse until the tomatoes are coarsely chopped. Add the tomatoes and the liquid to the pot. Bring to a boil,reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary.
Make the baked pasta
- Preheat the oven to 500°F (260°C). Place three 6-inch (15-cm) gratin dishes or a 1-quart baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 1 tablespoon salt, and stir in the pasta. If you’re using a single type of pasta, cook it for 1 to 2 minutes less than the directions on the package. If you’re using both kinds of pasta, start with the one that cooks longest and add the second later so they finish at the same time. You want the pasta to be quite al dente (as in, not fully cooked) as it will continue to soften while the casserole bakes. Drain the pasta.
- Pour the soup into a large bowl, add the cooked pasta, the mozzarella, 2 tablespoons Parmesan, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper and toss well.
- Divide the mixture evenly among the gratin dishes or pile it all into the baking dish, dot the tops with butter, and bake until hot and bubbly and the pasta begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle each dish with the remaining Parmesan, bake for another 4 minutes, and serve hot.
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Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I like the varied ingredients, which give all of the flavors and textures a place to combine and meld into more than each ingredient would be on its own. I liked the idea of using the 2 different types of pasta, which was actually fun. I will try that again.
The tomato soup itself makes a ridiculous amount of soup. I just hope the leftover soup freezes well. If I was going to make this recipe again, I would definitely cut the recipe in half.
I’m a fan of “two-fers,” too (what Ina refers to when leftovers become a completely different dish. This recipe is a winner on both the first and second (or third) day. This is a really tasty dish as a soup but as a baked pasta dish, it knocks it out of the park. So good!
This baked pasta with tomatoes & eggplant is a keeper. Two great recipes from one initial meal prep.
I was skeptical in thinking the soup would be slightly watered-down pasta sauce, but it’s wonderful. I love the fennel but it’s a lot more than the recipe let’s on. The title should be tomato, eggplant, and fennel soup.
The baked pasta is delicious with its pockets of molten mozzarella. Make sure to follow the directions for not fully cooking the pasta. This is key for a less soupy pasta bake. The baked pasta took about a half hour to complete.
Two easy to throw together weeknight meals!
We really enjoyed this baked pasta dish, and it was a double bonus that the soup base made enough for dinner another night. Tons of flavor, plenty of cheese, and my kids couldn’t even identify (or complain about) the eggplant! The extra soup froze and reheated very well.