At least here in America, once mid-November hits, time seems to literally fly. It’s Thanksgiving, full of hearty meals and family games. Then all of a sudden: put up the Christmas tree! Plan, shop, sing, party, stress: sometimes Alex and I forget to simply breathe.
The holidays can be beautiful, reconnecting with old friends and scattered family that are just for this moment, together. But the season can also be painful: remembering who’s not here. Each year, we hang an ornament in memory of a sweet babe who we found out wouldn’t make it past 8 weeks in the month of December. The older I get, the more the end of the year brings a nostalgia that makes me want to slow down, honor and grieve the past, and savor the now.
In that vein, here’s a lovely hearty pasta for sharing with family and friends in the chilly months ahead. It’s made with Alex’s “awesome sauce”, savory tomatoes simmered with garlic, herbs, a little butter and olive oil, and a secret ingredient: chopped green olives. They add a savory saltiness to the dish along with some complexity, and if you chop them small enough, olive haters will never know. (It’s true, we made this for an olive-hating friend and she was pleasantly surprised.) Mix the awesome sauce with some cavatappi pasta and top with gooey fresh mozzarella and parmesan cheese, and you’ve got a huge pan of belly-filling goodness. If you can’t find cavatappi, any short shape will do: penne or rigatoni would work well, and feel free to substitute gluten-free pasta for GF diets.
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This Baked Cavatappi with Awesome Sauce recipe is sponsored by Muir Glen Organic. Product opinions are our own. Thank you for supporting the sponsors of A Couple Cooks!
- 1 pound cavatappi
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 shallot
- 6-ounce dry weight can green olives (pitted)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 28-ounce can Muir Glen Organic crushed tomatoes (original or fire roasted)
- 1 15-ounce can Muir Glen Organic diced tomatoes (original or fire roasted)
- 1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
- 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon honey (optional)
- 4 cups baby spinach leaves
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced into disks
- ½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Boil 6 quarts water with 2 tablespoons kosher salt. Add the pasta and boil until al dente, about 6 to 7 minutes, then drain. Pour into a 9” x 13” pan and add a glug of olive oil to prevent it from sticking.
- Peel and mince the garlic and shallot. Drain the olives and finely chop them.
- In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and shallot and cook gently for 2 to 3 minutes until fragrant. Add the olives, tomatoes and their juices, balsamic vinegar, butter, nutmeg, oregano, basil, red pepper flakes, kosher salt, pepper, and honey and stir to combine. Simmer gently for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust salt as desired. Add the spinach leaves and cook another 2 to 3 minutes until tender.
- Pour the sauce into the pasta in the baking dish and mix to combine. Top with slices of fresh mozzarella cheese and grated parmesan cheese. Bake until the cheese is golden, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before serving.