This hearty, vegetarian pasta dinner delivers lots of cozy, comforting vibes. Strewn with white beans, tomatoes, greens, and lemon zest, the pasta bakes entirely in one skillet and makes its own luscious sauce in the process, all in about 25 minutes. Even better, while the pasta is in the oven, its savory flavors concentrate, the top layer gets brown and crispy, and the bottom layer stays creamy. You can serve the pasta straight from the skillet as is—or do as I do and top with quick-marinated mozzarella to up the flavor and texture more still. The resulting dish has pretty much everything I want from a speedy weeknight dinner: loads of bold, bright flavors, distinct, contrasting textures, and just one skillet to clean.
A few notes: I like orzo or ditalini for this dish because of the way they nestle-up with the beans and greens, but other types of small pasta shapes work well, such as shells, fusilli, or elbow macaroni. If you don’t have white beans, chickpeas stand-in nicely. For the liquid, I use a mix of water and heavy cream, but opt for all water or stock, or half-and-half or milk for the cream. Feel free to substitute other types of greens for the kale, and the mozzarella topper is adaptable, too—marinate feta if that’s what you have, mix together ricotta with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon zest, or just go heavy on the grated Parmesan. —EmilyC
- Prep time 10 minutes
- Cook time 25 minutes
- Serves 4
extra-virgin olive oil, divided
medium onion, halved and cut into 1/4-inch slices
garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups
orzo or ditalini pasta
diced tomatoes, juices included (one can)
cooked cannellini beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained (one can)
Finely grated zest plus juice from 1 small lemon
to 4 cups chopped Tuscan or curly kale, any tough ribs removed (or substitute spinach or chard)
1 1/2 teaspoons
kosher salt, or to taste
red chile flakes
finely chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, thyme, oregano) or substitute 1 teaspoon dried oregano or crushed fennel seeds
mozzarella, torn or cut into bite-sized pieces (or substitute feta)
Grated Parmesan or pecorino for serving (optional)
- Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add onion and a few pinches of salt, and saute for 4 minutes, or until translucent (a little browning around the edges is fine). Add garlic and saute for 1 minute longer.
- Lower the heat, and add the tomato paste and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until it caramelizes and starts to change in color from bright to brick red (about 1 to 1 1/2 minutes in total).
- Add water, scraping up any bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet, then add cream, pasta, diced tomatoes (with juices), white beans, lemon zest, kale, salt, and a pinch or two of chile flakes. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir and scrape the bottom of the skillet again. Transfer skillet to the oven (uncovered) and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the pasta is tender. (To check for doneness, use a spoon to peek at the bottom of the pan—the liquid should be cooked off, and the pasta loose and creamy. Return to the oven for a few extra minutes, if needed, if the sauce is too soupy.)
- While the pasta is baking, make the marinated mozzarella: In a medium bowl, mix the mozzarella with the chopped herbs, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and a pinch of chile flakes and salt. Adjust seasoning and acidity, to taste.
- Once the pasta is done, let cool for a few minutes, then top with grated Parmesan (if using) and the marinated mozzarella; lightly stir it into the top layer of the pasta—or pass it on the side so everyone can serve themselves. Serve the pasta straight from the skillet.