Pasta in tomato sauce can be a fantastic feast—it just needs a few accents to take it beyond basic. Luckily, we’ve got some good ones. This penne in marinara comes with zucchini, Tuscan herbs and spices, basil, and a cheesy breadcrumb crust. Once you’ve tossed everything together and popped it in the oven, you’re just minutes away from cheesy, herbaceous, saucy, and just ever so slightly spicy bliss.
Tuscan Heat Spice
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Preheat broiler to high. Wash and dry all produce. Cut zucchini into ¼-inch cubes. Cut mozzarella into ½-inch cubes. Peel, halve, and chop onion. Mince or grate garlic.
Once water boils, add penne to pot. Cook until al dente, 9-11 minutes. Carefully scoop out ½ cup pasta cooking water, then drain.
Meanwhile, heat a large drizzle of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat (use an ovenproof pan if you have one). Add zucchini and cook, tossing, until just browned, about 5 minutes. Toss in onion, garlic, and half the Tuscan Heat Spice (we’ll use the rest later). Cook, tossing, until onion is softened, 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Add marinara sauce, penne, remaining Tuscan Heat Spice, and reserved pasta cooking water to pan and stir to combine. Let simmer until warmed through, 3-4 minutes. Stir in half the Parmesan. Season with plenty of salt and pepper. TIP: If your pan is not ovenproof, transfer contents to an 8-by-11-inch baking dish at this point.
Scatter mozzarella over pasta in pan or dish. Stir together remaining Parmesan, ¼ cup panko (we sent more), and a drizzle of olive oil in a small bowl, then sprinkle over pasta.
Place pan or dish under broiler and broil until panko is golden brown and sauce is bubbly, 5-7 minutes. (TIP: Keep an eye out for any burning.) Let cool slightly. Drizzle with basil oil and serve.