Baked Skillet Pasta with Cheddar and Spiced Onions

A pizza/pasta mash-up with a slight Mexican undertone served in pie-shaped wedges. Is it a dish with an identity crisis? Maybe, but it was still interesting, fun and tasty! And if you are looking for a new meatless recipe, then this puppy is worth a try.

In this warming skillet pasta bake, onions — sautéed with cumin, coriander and allspice until golden and aromatic — do double duty. They form the base of the tomato sauce that’s used to coat the pasta, and are mixed with grated Cheddar for the topping, where strands of browned onions mingle with the melted, gooey cheese. It’s satisfying and easy, with the pasta baked in the same skillet as the sauce.

We used a 13″ sauté pan (which is a little larger than instructed); upped the portion of tomatoes from a 15-ounce to a 28-ounce can; and eliminated adding a cup of water to the tomato mix; although we did reserve, and use, 1 cup of the pasta water at the end.

Since we already had a box of pasta on hand, we opted to use our cellentani, a corkscrew-shaped pasta which captured the onions and tomato bits very nicely. Word to the wise, it’s tough getting that many onions to brown in the skillet, so when it was time to remove half of them, I put one half of the onions in another pan for browning further. I had intended to try adding a pinch of baking soda as suggested by one reviewer, but totally forgot.

Serve it as a meatless main course with a crisp salad alongside, or as a rich side to a lighter chicken or fish dish.

TIP: A pinch of baking soda will speed up the browning process (the Maillard reaction.) Just a pinch, too much will be noticeable in the finished dish.

Baked Skillet Pasta with Cheddar and Spiced Onions

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 6 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1½ tsp. ground coriander
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • Pinch of cayenne, plus more to taste
  • 1¼ tsp. fine sea salt, plus more as needed
  • 3 fat garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • ⅛ tsp. ground allspice
  • 1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
  • 1 lb. small pasta, such as rotini or shells
  • ¾ cup chopped parsley or cilantro (or use a combination of cilantro and parsley), plus more for serving
  • 8 oz. shredded Cheddar
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan
  • Hot sauce, for serving (optional)


  1. Heat ¼ cup oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat. Add onions and bay leaf, and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and browned in spots, 12 to 20 minutes. (Reduce heat if the pan starts to scorch.) Lower heat to medium, and stir in coriander, ground cumin, cayenne and ¼ teaspoon salt; cook 1 more minute. Transfer half the onions to a bowl and reserve (leave the bay leaf in the skillet).
  2. Add garlic, cumin seeds, pepper and allspice to the skillet, and stir. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in the juice from the canned tomatoes. Use your hands or kitchen scissors to squish or cut the tomatoes into pieces and add to pan. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and bring mixture to a simmer. Simmer until thickened, about 20 minutes. Taste, and add more salt and cayenne if you like. Remove bay leaf.
  3. As mixture cooks, heat oven to 400° and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until just about 2 minutes shy of al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water, and drain pasta.
  4. Stir pasta, reserved pasta water, and parsley into skillet with tomato sauce. Top with reserved browned onions, Cheddar and Parmesan. Transfer to oven and bake until golden and bubbly, 20 to 25 minutes. If you like, you can run the pan under the broil to brown the top, or leave it as is. Let cool slightly, top with more parsley, if desired, and serve with hot sauce, if you like.

Adapted from a recipe by Melissa Clark for NYTimes Cooking

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