Nothin' says lovin' like pasta from the oven

Whatever Punxsutawny Phil predicts today, we can rest assured that there's more cold weather ahead. And, as we all know, cold weather calls for comfort food. Actually, any excuse for comfort food will do, but setting out to prepare tummy-warming fuel for body and soul is particularly satisfying this time of year.

Without getting into what defines comfort food for each person, some kind of pasta, aka noodles, makes the Top 10 list for virtually everyone on the planet – or at least this half of it. And since we welcome the opportunity to heat up the kitchen, some kind of baked pasta dish seems to smack of nirvana.

Our exercise du jour, then, is to remove from the oven the cookie sheets we've been storing in there since Christmas and replace them, at least temporarily, with some kind of pasta dish that'll pay homage to Marco Polo and the Asians who taught him how to use his noodles.

Italian preparations come to mind, of course — lasagna, stuffed shells, manicotti – done up "al forno" (meaning baked in the oven). These are investment cooking projects (providing one or two planover meals during the week). They're worthy of a winter Sunday when you're pretty much happy to be indoors and can keep your fuzzy slippers on all day. For variety, we also employ flavoring ingredients from another ethnic cuisine.

We have a few suggestions, which we proffer here.

Lasagna primavera

We begin with the quasi-familiar, baked lasagna with tomato sauce —adding some veggies for extra nutrition. This sauce "recipe" is a mainstay in our kitchen. But you can use bottled sauce — we like most Barilla varieties — allowing 3 to 4 cups for this job.

P.S. Next time you make the marinara as suggested here, you might decide to turn it into a meat sauce: Brown ground beef and/or mild Italian sausage in a large skillet. Drain well, then add to sauce and simmer about 20 minutes more, before adding herbs.

We like to use mint (instead of sugar) to balance the acidity of the tomatoes.

You probably don't need anything else with this, but a green salad and some chewy Italian bread are nice addenda.


3 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped onion

1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms

5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

5 (28-ounce) cans diced plum tomatoes

1 cup dry red wine, e.g. Chianti

2 tablespoons dried oregano

2 tablespoons dried basil

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper