One of my daughter’s favorite dishes from Tellini’s Pasta Market is their Italian casserole. Begin with a cheesy baked rigatoni, which is heaven on a plate as is, but top it with a zesty marinara sauce. It’s the best of both worlds when you can’t decide whether you’re craving an Alfredo or marinara sauce-based dish.

As a surprise for her, I attempted to recreate the recipe. I believe I came really close!

BAKED RIGATONI ITALIAN CASSEROLE TOPPED WITH MARINARA SAUCE
Make the marinara sauce topping first:
*2 tablespoons olive oil
*1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
*1 teaspoon minced garlic
*1 (28-ounce) can of crushed tomatoes
*2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning
*1 teaspoon sugar
*1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
*A few grinds of black pepper

In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and let them cook for 4 to 5 minutes until softened. Add garlic and let cook for a minute longer.

Add tomatoes, Italian seasoning and sugar, and bring to a simmer. Cover and let cook for 30 to 45 minutes. During the last few minutes of cooking, add the red wine vinegar and black pepper. Taste and add a little salt if needed.
Now for the casserole:
*16-ounce box rigatoni, cooked according to package directions and drained
*2 tablespoons butter
*2 tablespoons olive oil
*2 tablespoons flour
*3 cups milk
*3/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan, plus extra for topping
*1 cup shredded Mozzarella
*24 ounces ricotta cheese
*1 teaspoon white pepper
*1 teaspoon salt
*1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9-by-13-ince casserole dish with non-stick spray.

In a large saucepan (at least 2 quarts), heat butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add flour and, stirring constantly, let it cook until it is a light brown color. Slowly add in milk, stirring constantly, and allow the mixture to thicken slightly.

Add the cheeses a little at a time until blended and evenly melted. Stir in pepper, salt and dried parsley flakes. Remove from heat and stir into drained rigatoni noodles.

Pour casserole mixture into a prepared baking dish and cover with foil. Cook for 25 minutes and remove foil. Sprinkle more Parmesan cheese on top and return to oven for 10 more minutes. Allow to rest for about 5 minutes. Top each serving with a generous portion of marinara sauce. Add a fresh green salad and breadsticks, and you have a delicious meal.

SOUTHWESTERN TATER TOT CASSEROLE
This recipe is an easy meal for beginning cooks and fills the bill for a fast weeknight dinner.
*1 pound ground chuck, browned and fat drained
*1 can cream of potato soup
*1 can white shoepeg corn with chipotle peppers, drained
*1 small can diced green chilies, drained
*1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
*1 can Rotel tomatoes (I used hot)
*1 teaspoon granulated garlic
*1 teaspoon onion powder
*1 tablespoon chili powder
*1 small (28-ounce) package tater tots
*1 cup shredded Monterrey Jack/Colby cheese blend, divided
*Cilantro, sour cream, green onions (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Combine the first nine ingredients in a large bowl. Add one-half cup of cheese. Spray a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish with non-stick spray.

Gently pour casserole mixture into baking dish. Arrange tater tots on top. Place in the oven for 25 minutes.

Remove from oven, add remaining cheese and return to oven for about 5 minutes. Let rest for a few minutes before serving. Top with cilantro, sour cream or chopped green onions - or all three!
Laura Tolbert, also known as Fleur de Lolly, has been sharing recipes, table decor ideas and advice for fellow foodies and novices on her blog, fleurdelolly.blogspot.com for more than eight years. She won the Duke Mayonnaise 100th Anniversary nationwide recipe contest for her Alabama White BBQ Sauce. You can contact her at facebook.com/fleurde.lolly.5, on Instagram and fleurdelolly@yahoo.com.