No matter the weather, it’s pretty much impossible not to daydream about cheesy baked carbs. Luckily, this dish is guaranteed to make those dreams come true. In it, you’ll find penne and zucchini layered with herby, creamy ricotta and a rich marinara sauce. To top things off, there’s a melty blanket of mozzarella. Serve it right from the dish for maximum cheese pull potential and wait for the oohs and aahs from your lucky fellow diners.
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Adjust rack to top position and preheat oven to 450 degrees. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Wash and dry all produce. Trim zucchini, then grate on the largest holes of a box grater. Halve, peel, and dice half the onion (save remaining for another use; dice whole onion for 4 servings). Finely dice tomato.
Once water is boiling, add penne to pot. Cook until almost al dente, 8 minutes. Drain. Reserve empty pot for use in step 5.
Meanwhile, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add onion, tomato, and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, 4-6 minutes. Stir in marinara, grated zucchini, half the Italian Seasoning (you’ll use the rest later), ¼ cup water (½ cup for 4 servings), 1 tsp sugar (2 tsp for 4), and a large pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer. Cook 2-4 minutes more, then turn off heat.
While sauce simmers, in a medium bowl, combine ricotta, remaining Italian Seasoning, and a drizzle of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Add penne, sauce, and 1 TBSP butter (2 TBSP for 4 servings) to pot used for pasta. Season with salt and pepper; stir to thoroughly combine. Spread out half the pasta mixture in an 8-by-8-inch baking dish. (For 4 servings, use a 9-by- 13-inch baking dish.) Using a tablespoon, dollop pasta mixture with seasoned ricotta. Top with remaining pasta mixture, then sprinkle with mozzarella.
Cover baking dish with foil. (TIP: Spray inside of foil with nonstick spray first to prevent sticking.) Bake on top rack for 10 minutes, then remove from oven; discard foil. Heat broiler to high. Broil until cheese is lightly browned, 4-5 minutes. Let cool slightly, then top with chili flakes if desired. Divide pasta between plates and serve.