Baked Penne with Feta and Olives -- I Heart Cooking Clubs

This week at I Heart Cooking Clubs the theme was Pot Luck, and let me tell you, I bet this would be one of the first dishes to 'clean out' at a pot luck because it is so delicious!

After seeing Deb's yummy pot luck pasta dish I had a serious pasta craving and paged through Bittman's How To Cook Everything Vegetarian until I found a suitor -- Baked Ziti! Bittman calls this old school baked ziti with red sauce a short-cut to lasagna and a pot luck staple -- perfect :)

In the preface to this recipe he says, Whatever you do, don't overcook the pasta! It should be too tough to actually eat when you mix it with the sauce, which will make it perfect after baking.

There are a few variations of the basic recipe listed and I went with the Baked Ziti with Goat Cheese and Olives version, but swapped the ziti for penne and swapped the goat cheese for feta. In the variation you are to swap out the original 1 lb mozzarella in the recipe for the goat cheese, and being the cheese lovers we are, I decided to just use 1/2 the mozzarella and half the goat cheese amount (as feta) so we got some of both cheeses.

Baked Penne with Feta and Olives

3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp minced garlic (I used 5 cloves of roasted garlic, smashed)
1 - 28 ounce can tomatoes, chopped, with their liquid (I used two 14 ounce cans of San Marzanos)
1 lb ziti or other large cut pasta (penne worked well as a ziti substitute)
1/2 lb mozzarella
1/2 lb crumbled feta
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 cup pitted olives, in large pieces (I mostly halved them and quartered a few)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and preheat the oven to 400.

Add the olive oil to a large pan, add the garlic and cook for a minute or so, then add the tomatoes and olives, bring to a boil. *I added 2 tbsp sugar to the tomato sauce, I was brought up on and love a sauce with a touch of sweet* Turn the heat down so that the mixture bubbles and gently cooks, stirring occasionally, while you cook the pasta; don't let the sauce get too thick.

Cook the pasta until just tender; it should still be too hard to eat. Drain it, don't shake the colander, let some water still cling to the noodles. Toss the pasta with the sauce and about half of the mozzarella and feta.

Grease (or spray with cooking spray) a large 9 by 13 baking dish and pour or spoon the pasta mixture in. Top with the remaining mozzarella and feta and the parmesan.

Bake until the top is browned and the cheese is bubbly, 20 to 30 minutes.

This was such a flavorful dish, even with such minimal ingredients. I absolutely loved it the first night. Those who tried it loved it too, but some people, like picky husband, could not be persuaded to try this because of the (small!) hunks of tomato and, gasp, black olives. Sigh. I almost always have to make two meals because he is so picky. Oh-well. This is one of my new favorite baked pasta dishes and I can't wait to try Mark's other variations. I don't know how anyone could pass on this one, it smelled amazing with the the garlic and the feta, who can resist a cheesy saucy baked pasta?