3.5 ounces / 100 grams (4 slices) Muenster Cheese – cut into small rectangle pieces
Optional toppings: Reserved pepperoni slices, reserved sliced olives, more sliced red onion, sliced bell pepper (any color, or use a combination of assorted colored bell peppers), sliced banana peppers (see notes)*
To Serve/Garnish: Chopped/sliced fresh Italian Basil Leaves (use as much as you like!), dried oregano flakes, crushed red pepper chili flakes, to taste
Prepare the fresh ingredients: Chop/slice the red onion, bell peppers, garlic, red chilies, olives, fresh Italian basil, and any of the optional toppings you’re using according to the ‘Ingredients’ section. Grate the Parmigiano Reggiano and mozzarella cheeses, and cut the muenster cheese slices into small rectangle pieces.
For the Pizza Pasta Bake:
Cook the pasta: Cook the pasta 2-3 minutes shy of al-dente according to package instructions in a large pot (or the same large deep sauté pan you’ll use to make the pasta dish) of boiling salted water. Drain and set aside. (I like to run water cold water over the pasts to prevent it from sticking and cooking further.)
Prep: Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C. Lightly brush ½ TSP of olive oil in a 9×13-inch baking dish (or spray with cooking spray). (See notes)*
Cook the pancetta: Cook the pancetta in a large deep sauté pan over medium heat, sautéing occasionally until browned and crisp – about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Remove all but 1.5 tablespoons of pancetta grease from the pan and place it back on the stovetop.
Make the sauce: Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and heat over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the sliced red onion and bell peppers. Sauté for 1-2 minutes, or until the onion has softened. Add the garlic and red chilies and sauté to combine for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add 2/3 of the pepperoni slices and most of the sliced black olives (reserve a few slices for topping), and stir to combine. Pour in the tomato pasta sauce, and add the kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper, ground cayenne, crushed red pepper chili flakes, garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, and dried oregano flakes. Stir until combined well. Add the pasta, cooked pancetta cubes and toss for 1-2 minutes until evenly combined. Switch off the heat and stir in half of the sliced basil leaves.
Assemble the casserole: Spread half of the pasta mixture in an even layer in the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle half of the grated Parmigiano Reggiano and half of the mozzarella cheese on top, and top with half of the muenster cheese pieces. Then repeat and add the remainder pasta mixture in an even layer, followed by the remainder Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, mozzarella cheese, and muenster cheese pieces. Top with the reserved pepperoni slices and olives, as well as any of your desired pizza toppings such as sliced red onion, bell peppers, banana peppers, etc.
Bake: Bake uncovered for 20 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and is golden and bubbly. Transfer the dish to a wire cooling rack and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
To Serve: Garnish with more fresh Italian basil, and serve immediately with dried oregano flakes and crushed red pepper chili flakes on the side if desired. Then enjoy!
Tomato pasta sauce: I’ve doctored up the tomato basil pasta sauce and amped up the flavors with some sautéed fresh garlic and seasonings. Depending on the brand of sauce you use and your taste preference, you can adjust the amount of garlic and seasonings you add to taste.
Heat level: Omit (or reduce the quantity of) the red chilies, ground cayenne, and crushed red pepper flakes based on your heat level preference or if you’re dining with kids. You can add more of these ingredients if you’d like this to be a spicier dish.
Toppings: I recommend using about ½ cup (a small handful) of toppings to top the casserole with before baking. You can of course, use as much or as few and any kind of meat and veggie pizza toppings you like.
Greasing the baking dish: If using meat that’s quite fatty such as pepperoni and pancetta, you most likely won’t need to grease the baking dish (I didn’t and the pasta bake did not stick to the baking dish). If using just veggies or other meat with less fat, you may need to lightly grease the baking dish with 1/2 TSP of oil. Use your own discretion based on the meat you choose to use.
Make ahead and freezing: Cook and assemble the casserole fully with the cheeses. Once fully cooled, cover with foil and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight (it’ll only partially thaw, but that’s okay) and set on the counter for 30-60 minutes before baking. You’ll need to increase the bake time to 25-30 minutes. If the cheese starts to brown too much before the 25-minute mark, cover with a sheet of foil and continue baking until piping hot throughout.
See ‘Variations’ section in post for more ideas on how to customize your pizza pasta bake.