Pepperoni Lover's Pizza Pasta Recipe

Pizza is one of our most popular take-out items and pasta is a perennial favorite, so recipe developer Kara Barrett has combined the two for what many might consider the best of all possible meals. Pizza pasta combines all of the cheesy melty sauciness of pizza with all the comfort of a baked pasta dish. Thanks to Pizza Hut, the phrase "pepperoni lover's" is practically synonymous with pizza, so Barrett layers this cured sausage generously within the dish and uses it as a topping as well. 

This versatile pepperoni lover's pizza pasta, she says, is something that "comes together easily and makes a fun dish to bring to a potluck or to jazz up the weeknight meal doldrums. Serve this dish with garlic bread and wine and make it a fun date dinner." This easy pasta dish is full of bright yet comforting flavors, and can easily be customized to accommodate all of your pizza preferences. If you add a green side salad and some crusty bread to mop up the sauce, you'll have a very satisfying meal.

If you'd like to prepare all or part of this dish in advance, Barrett says that's doable. You can make the sauce the day before you assemble the dish, or you can make the whole thing ahead of time, wrap it up, and stick it in the refrigerator until it's time to cook. You can also freeze it before baking and any leftovers will freeze quite nicely, too. 

Assemble the ingredients for the pepperoni lover's pizza pasta

To make her pasta sauce, Barrett uses butter, tomato paste, oregano, garlic cloves, salt, canned crushed tomatoes, and a lemon. The rest of the casserole is made from rigatoni, olive oil, mozzarella, and pepperoni.

Step 1: Melt some butter

On medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter until it foams.

Step 2: Cook the tomato paste

Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a couple of minutes to caramelize.

Step 3: Stir in the seasonings

Add oregano, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of salt.

Step 4: Fry the garlic

Cook for a minute until the garlic is fragrant.

Step 5: Add the tomatoes

Add the crushed tomatoes and 1 more teaspoon of salt.

Step 6: Cook the sauce

Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Step 7: Add the lemon juice and butter

Finish with juice from a lemon and stir in 2 tablespoons of butter. Taste for salt.

Step 8: Cook the rigatoni

Cook the rigatoni pasta according to the package instructions in very salty water until al dente.

Step 9: Add the oil to the rigatoni

In a large bowl mix the pasta with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Step 10: Combine the rigatoni with cheese, meat, and sauce

Add 1 cup shredded mozzarella, ⅓ cup of sliced pepperoni, 2 cups of sauce, and 1 teaspoon of salt

Step 11: Stir the rigatoni mixture

Mix well to combine.

Step 12: Layer the pasta in a pie pan

Add half of the pasta to a standard pie dish.

Step 13: Top the pasta with cheese and meat

Top with half the remaining cheese and pepperoni.

Step 14: Layer more pasta, sauce, cheese, and meat

Cover with the remaining pasta. Top with the remaining cheese, any leftover sauce, and top with pepperoni as desired.

Step 15: Turn on the oven

Preheat your oven to 375 F.

Step 16: Bake the pizza pasta

Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Broil for 1 to 2 minutes to crisp to develop more color, if desired.

Step 17: Cool the pizza pasta

Cool for 10 minutes, garnish with fresh basil, and serve warm.

Pepperoni Lover's Pizza Pasta Recipe
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In this pepperoni lover's pizza pasta, all of the cheesy melty sauciness of pizza combines with the comfort of baked pasta for an easy and satisfying dinner.
Prep Time
10
minutes
Cook Time
45
minutes
Servings
4
Servings
pasta casserole with towel
Total time: 55 minutes
Ingredients
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • ½ pound rigatoni pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 1 cup sliced pepperoni, divided
Optional Ingredients
  • Fresh basil leaves for garnish
Directions
  1. On medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter until it foams.
  2. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for a couple of minutes to caramelize.
  3. Add oregano, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of salt.
  4. Cook for a minute until the garlic is fragrant.
  5. Add the crushed tomatoes and 1 more teaspoon of salt.
  6. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Finish with juice from a lemon and stir in 2 tablespoons of butter. Taste for salt.
  8. Cook the rigatoni pasta according to the package instructions in very salty water until al dente.
  9. In a large bowl mix the pasta with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
  10. Add 1 cup shredded mozzarella, ⅓ cup of sliced pepperoni, 2 cups of sauce, and 1 teaspoon of salt
  11. Mix well to combine.
  12. Add half of the pasta to a standard pie dish.
  13. Top with half the remaining cheese and pepperoni.
  14. Cover with the remaining pasta. Top with the remaining cheese, any leftover sauce, and top with pepperoni as desired.
  15. Preheat your oven to 375 F.
  16. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Broil for 1 to 2 minutes to crisp to develop more color, if desired.
  17. Cool for 10 minutes, garnish with fresh basil, and serve warm.
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What are some tips for making a quick tomato sauce?

While Barrett likes to make her tomato sauce from scratch, she admits: "If you don't have time to make sauce, you can buy store-bought." (Here's our ranking of popular pasta sauces if you'd like some guidance in picking one.) The sauce in this recipe, however, is quick to make, and Barrett notes that taking extra care with a few simple steps gives it a deeper flavor and more complexity than you might expect from a sauce that's only simmered for 15 minutes.

Barrett's initial step of cooking the tomato paste in butter helps to caramelize and intensify the sweetness of the tomatoes, as well as to get rid of any canned-veg flavors. Unlike many tomato-based sauces, Barrett's uses butter instead of olive oil, which she prefers because, in her opinion, "Butter makes the sauce rich and creamy," particularly when she adds more right at the end. Adding a pop of acid at the end of the cooking process in the form of lemon juice brings all of the flavors in the sauce to life. As Barrett says, the lemon juice makes this "sauce bright and acidic to offset the richness of the pepperoni." As a bonus, lemon juice can also help to fix any burnt taste if you accidentally scorch the sauce. And speaking of scorching, Barrett cautions against overcooking the garlic. Only fry it until you can smell it, she says, since once it burns, it may taste bitter.

How can I customize this dish?

Apart from using store-bought sauce in place of homemade, you can also change up this pizza pasta to better suit your taste or the contents of your cupboards. For one thing, you could use turkey pepperoni in place of pork. In fact, you could go even farther afield and use a different type of cured meat such as pancetta, prosciutto, salami, or Spanish-style chorizo. Barrett also suggests using cooked ground Italian sausage, something that could either supplement or replace the pepperoni.

You can experiment by adding any pizza toppings that you enjoy: Simply layer them in with the sauce and the pasta. Try thinly sliced mushrooms, onions, or bell peppers. Add even more depth of flavor with roasted red peppers, or give the pasta a briny kick with black olives or artichoke hearts. You could even add a drizzle of store-bought or homemade bright and fresh basil pesto to the mix.

As for the cheese, while mozzarella is the most pizza-like, you could substitute another mild, semi-soft cheese like Jack or provolone. Barrett also suggests mixing some ricotta into the cheese to make the dish creamier. The type of pasta can be changed up, as well — try swapping out the rigatoni for another short, chunky type like penne, ziti, or rotelle.