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 bell pepper, Tuscan herbs and spices, a cheesy breadcrumb crust, and a drizzle of basil oil. 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.
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Tuscan Heat Spice
Heat broiler to high. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Wash and dry all produce. Core, deseed, and dice bell pepper. Halve, peel, and dice onion. Mince or grate garlic. Cut mozzarella into ½-inch cubes.
Once water is boiling, add penne to pot. Cook until al dente, 9-11 minutes. Reserve ½ cup pasta cooking water (¾ cup for 4 servings), then drain.
Meanwhile, heat a large drizzle of olive oil in a large, preferably ovenproof, pan over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper and cook, stirring, until just browned, 4-6 minutes. Stir in onion, garlic, and half the Tuscan Heat Spice (you’ll use the rest later). Cook, stirring, 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 with veggies; stir to combine. Let simmer until warmed through, 3-4 minutes. Stir in half the Parmesan (you’ll use the rest later). Season with plenty of salt and pepper. TIP: If your pan is not ovenproof, transfer pasta now to a baking dish.
In a small bowl, stir together panko, remaining Parmesan, and a drizzle of olive oil. Top pasta with mozzarella, then panko mixture.
Transfer pasta to top rack and broil until panko is golden brown, sauce is bubbly, and cheese has melted, 5-7 minutes. (TIP: Watch carefully to avoid burning.) Let cool slightly, then divide between plates or bowls. Drizzle with basil oil and serve.