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, and a cheesy breadcrumb crust, plus a drizzle of aromatic basil oil for good measure. 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
Adjust oven rack to top position and heat broiler to high. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Wash and dry all produce. Trim and dice zucchini into ¼-inch pieces. Halve, peel, and dice onion. Peel and 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.
While pasta cooks, heat a large drizzle of olive oil in a large, preferably ovenproof, pan over medium-high heat. Add zucchini and cook, stirring, until just browned, 4-6 minutes. Stir in onion, garlic, and half the Tuscan Heat Spice (you’ll use the rest in the next step). 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. Simmer until warmed through, 3-4 minutes. Stir in half the Parmesan (you’ll use the rest in the next step). Season with plenty of salt and pepper. Remove pan from heat. 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.
Broil pasta on top rack 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.