Back when I started cooking, as a student who could barely boil rice, I used to stock up on those expensive jars of pasta bake and follow their instructions. For some reason, as well as costing £1-2 a jar, their recipes required waiting for a good hour before the pasta was ready.
I've found a very easy way to throw together a delicious pasta meal without buying any pasta bakes or sauces. Well... kinda. All you need is pasta, vegetables, and a box of passata - which is a sauce made from pure tomatoes (usually), sieved and strained. You can usually find it near other tomato products in the supermarket. as well as supposedly being of better quality than the tomatoes in tomato sauce, there are usually no additives and it's a lot cheaper! A carton is usually around 40p and lasts a while.
To make the pasta bake pictured here (serves 4), I used:
1 packet of spinach and mozzarella tortellini from Aldi (yes, not the healthiest thing, I know...) - you can use any pasta you want!
1/2 an onion
2 cloves of garlic
A handful of basil leaves
1/2 a can of sweetcorn
A litttle (let's say 1/4 each) red pepper, yellow pepper, courgette and leek
1/2 a bag of spinach
1 block of mozzarella
200ml of passata
1. Preheat your oven to 150C. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and add chopped onion and garlic. Stir for 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, bring a saucepan to the boil with the pasta inside (around 2 inches above the pasta). Cook according to the packet instructions - usually between 5-15 minutes.
2. Add all other vegetables except basil leaves and spinach. Stir for 2-3 minutes.
3. Add the spinach. Spinach is massive and will cover everything for a few minutes, but keep stirring and the heat and moisture will shrink it down into tiny bits.
4. Add the passata to the pan and stir everything together.
5. Drain the water from the pasta once it's ready. Pour the pasta into a baking dish (e.g. a casserole dish, deep baking tray etc) then cover it with the mixture from the frying pan. Stir around but be careful of splashing everything onto the counter!
6. Add slices of mozzarella to the top of the pasta bake. Chop up your basil leaves and scatter on the top.
7. Place in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese has melted.
Woo! There you go. A nice, warming and filling dish for those colder days!