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Published: Wednesday, December 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Crowd- pleasing rigatoni easy to fix

Pasta is always a good idea for supper. Not only is it quick, but it's also a crowd pleaser.
Nobody understands this as well as Lidia Bastianich.
If you've watched her long-running PBS television shows, "Lidia's Italy" and "Lidia's Family Table," you know that she produces pasta dishes that are simple, straightforward, easy to prepare and full of authentic flavor.
Her newest book, "Lidia's Commonsense Italian Cooking" ($35), written along with her daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, is filled with easy pasta recipes, along with a wealth of salads, soups, meat, seafood and vegetable dishes.
Try out this dish of baked rigatoni and zucchini, which makes good use of end-of-the-season zucchini and any basil left in the garden, too.
Baked rigatoni and zucchini
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pot
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 pound medium zucchini, sliced
1 can (28 ounces) whole San Marzano tomatoes, crushed by hand
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1 pound rigatoni
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
8 ounces shredded Fontina cheese
1 cup grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for pasta.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini, and cook until it begins to soften, another 5 minutes. Add the salt, then the crushed tomatoes, slosh the tomato can out with 1 cup water and add it to the skillet as well. Bring the sauce to a boil, and simmer just until it thickens, about 8 to 10 minutes, but don't let the zucchini begin to fall apart. Then toss in the chopped basil.
Meanwhile, cook the rigatoni until al dente, a few minutes shy of the package directions. Drain the pasta, and toss it in the skillet with the tomato sauce and basil.
Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. In a medium bowl, toss together the two cheeses. Spread half the pasta and sauce in the baking dish, and top with half the cheese. Layer the remaining pasta and sauce, then the remaining cheese.
Bake, uncovered, until browned and bubbly, about 20 minutes.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
"Lidia's Commonsense Italian Cooking," by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and Tanya Bastianich Manuali

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