Baked pasta dishes are perfect for autumn

Tasty comfort food is simple to make and offers a hearty meal that is ideal for cool fall weather

There’s nothing better — and easier — than a baked pasta dish to warm the body on a cold night.

After all, just thinking about a baked ziti or homemade macaroni and cheese is enough to get most people’s mouths watering.

But there are a few things to consider when making a baked pasta dish.

Think about the right type of noodle for the job. After all, a pasta with smooth sides doesn’t give the sauce anything to hold onto. Ridges hold sauce and cheese, and sturdier sides make for a well-cooked, not soggy and floppy, noodle.

So maybe instead of a classic elbow macaroni, try a different pasta instead, perhaps rigatoni, riccioli or rocchetti.

To avoid mushy baked pasta, undercook the pasta when boiling it. Try for a semi-raw texture that’s even firmer than al dente. Because the pasta’s going into a hot sauce in a hot oven, it’ll continue to cook long after it’s been drained.

A red sauce is traditional in Italian-American baked pasta dishes, but that doesn’t mean you should stop there. You can try combining a red sauce and a white béchamel for a sauce that’s both bright and rich.

Taste every component before combining them and sticking the pan in the oven. The sauces should be well-seasoned but not overly salty, and the noodles should be tasty with an extra-firm bite. And consider the fact that some mozzarella comes pre-salted, and Parmesan definitely has a salty flavor.

Remember that baked pasta will not acquire a golden, bubbling crust in a regular oven. Baking your dish at 350 degrees will ensure the cheesy sauce melts beautifully into the noodles, but the temperature isn’t high enough to get any color on the top layer of cheese. Once your pasta is perfectly cooked, stick the dish under the broiler and monitor it closely to achieve a burnished top layer with a few crunchy, crispy noodles on the top.

And allow your dish to rest for five to 10 minutes after cooking to give the sauce a chance to settle into the nooks and crannies of your pasta and the entire dish to come together. After all, that’s what you want, isn’t it?

Following are a few baked pasta recipes from foodandwine.com.

 

    food & wine

Vegetable and Ravioli Lasagna

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 sweet Italian pork or turkey sausages, casings removed
1 24-ounce jar marinara sauce
1/2 cup water
2 14-ounce packages fresh cheese ravioli
1 14-ounce package fresh spinach-and-cheese ravioli
12 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1-1/2 pounds mixed roasted or grilled vegetables, cut into 1-inch pieces

    In a large saucepan, heat olive oil until shimmering. Add sausage meat and cook about five minutes over moderately high heat, stirring and breaking up the lumps with a wooden spoon, until no longer pink. Add marinara sauce and water and simmer five minutes.
    Add fresh ravioli to a large pot of salted, boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain ravioli and return to the pot. Add sausage marinara and toss gently to coat ravioli.
    Spoon one-third of the ravioli and sauce into a three-quart baking dish in an even layer. Sprinkle with 1 cup shredded mozzarella and 1 tablespoon Parmesan. Layer another one-third ravioli on top, followed by all the vegetables, 1 cup mozzarella and 1 tablespoon Parmesan. Top with remaining ravioli, spooning on any remaining sauce and sausage. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella and Parmesan on top and cover with foil.
    Bake in a 375-degree oven for 30 minutes, until bubbling. Uncover and bake 25 minutes longer, until lightly browned and bubbling. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

 

Grant’s Mac and Cheese

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 thick slices of bacon, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium onion, minced
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/3 cup flour
6 cups whole milk
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt

    In a large saucepan, melt butter. Add bacon and cook over moderate heat about seven minutes, until crisp. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to a plate.
    Add onion and bay leaves to the saucepan and cook about five minutes over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened. Add paprika and cayenne and cook, stirring, about three minutes, until fragrant. Stir in flour until blended. Gradually whisk in milk until sauce is smooth. Bring to a boil over high heat, whisking constantly, and cook until thickened. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently for 30 minutes, whisking frequently. Discard bay leaves.
    Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add macaroni and boil abut four minutes, until pliable but undercooked. Drain macaroni and return to the pot.
    Stir 4 cups cheddar into the hot sauce, add bacon and season with salt. Add sauce to the macaroni and mix well. Spread mac and cheese in a buttered 9-by-13-inch baking dish and scatter the remaining cheddar on top. Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 30 minutes, until golden brown and bubbling. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
    The assembled mac and cheese can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before baking.

 

Baked Orecchiette With Pork Sugo

3-1/4 pounds boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch pieces
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 celery ribs, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 large sweet onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
1-1/2 cups dry red wine
4 thyme sprigs
5 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1-1/2 pounds orecchiette
2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

    Season pork with salt and pepper. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat olive oil until shimmering. Add pork in a single layer and cook over moderately high heat about 12 minutes, until the pieces are golden brown all over. Add carrots, celery, onion and garlic and cook about eight minutes, until softened and browned in spots. Add tomatoes and their juices and bring to a simmer. Add red wine and thyme sprigs and cook over high heat about five minutes, until the wine is reduced by half. Add stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat about two hours, until the pork is very tender.
    Using a slotted spoon, transfer pork and vegetables to a food processor and discard the thyme sprigs. Pulse just until the pork is shredded. Scrape shredded pork and vegetables back into casserole. Stir in chopped parsley, oregano and crushed red pepper and season with salt and pepper.
    In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook orecchiette about five minutes, until it is still firm to the bite, then drain well. Add orecchiette to casserole and toss with the pork sauce. Scrape pasta into a very large baking dish and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake in the upper third of a375-degree oven for about 35 minutes, until golden brown on top and bubbling. Let baked pasta stand for 10 minutes before serving.
    The pork sugo can be refrigerated for as long as two days. Reheat before tossing with orecchiette.

 

Ziti, Eggplant and Fontina Gratin

7 tablespoons olive oil
1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 pound ziti or penne
1/2 pound fontina, grated

    In a large nonstick frying pan, heat four tablespoons oil over moderately high heat. Add eggplant and 3/4 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 to 15 minutes, until eggplant is soft. Stir in garlic, parsley and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook three minutes longer.
    In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta 10 to 15 minutes, until just done. Drain.
    Toss pasta with eggplant, the remaining oil, salt and pepper. Add cheese and toss again. Transfer pasta to a shallow baking dish or gratin dish and broil two to three minutes, until the cheese melts and starts to brown.

 

White Lasagna Cupcakes

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for buttering ramekins
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for sprinkling
1/2 pound fresh lasagna noodles
1/2 cup flour
2 cups milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup snipped chives
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
8 ounces fontina cheese, shredded
6 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto, finely diced

    Butter eight six-ounce ramekins and coat with Parmigiano, then tap out the excess. Place the ramekins on a sturdy rimmed baking sheet.
    In a large pot of lightly salted boiling water, cook the lasagna noodles until al dente. Drain and cool under running water. Pat dry. Using a 3-1/4-inch biscuit cutter, stamp out 24 rounds to fit neatly inside the ramekins.
    In a large saucepan, melt four tablespoons butter. Add flour and whisk over moderately high heat for one minute. Add milk and whisk over moderate heat about five minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in egg, chives, parsley and 1/2 cup Parmigiano. Let cool slightly, then stir in fontina and prosciutto. Season filling with pepper.
    Arrange one pasta round in the bottom of each ramekin. Spoon a scant 1/4 cup filling into each ramekin and top with another noodle, then press to flatten slightly. Top with remaining filling and pasta rounds. Sprinkle tops with 1/4 cup of Parmigiano and cover loosely with foil.
    Bake in a 350-degree oven about 20 minutes, until filling is just bubbling. Remove foil and bake about 30 minutes longer, until slightly puffed and the tops and sides are golden. Let cool 20 minutes. Run a knife around the cupcakes, then invert onto plates, tapping firmly to release them. Serve hot or warm.

 

Lasagna-Style Baked Pennette With Meat Sauce

1 pound pennette or ditali
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 pound ground lamb
1 pound ground veal
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoons chopped marjoram
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
8 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup flour
1 quart whole milk
2 large egg yolks
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

    In a large pot of boiling water, cook pasta until al dente. Drain well.
    In a large, deep skillet, heat olive oil. Add onion and cook over moderately high heat four minutes, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add ground lamb and veal and cook about 10 minutes, stirring to break up lumps, until meat begins to brown. Remove from heat and stir in diced tomatoes, tomato paste, marjoram and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a large bowl.
    In a large saucepan, melt butter. Add flour and cook over moderate heat, whisking, for two minutes. Gradually whisk in milk and cook over moderately high heat, whisking constantly, seven to eight minutes, until sauce is thick and boiling. Remove from heat and whisk in egg yolks and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir all but 1-1/2 cups of sauce into meat mixture along with the pasta and season with salt and pepper. Spoon pasta into a three-quart baking dish. Spread the reserved sauce on top.
    Bake pasta in the center of a 350-degree  oven about 30 minutes, until bubbling. Broil pasta eight inches from the heat for about two minutes, until the top is browned and bubbling. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
    

Baked Ziti With Pesto

1/2 pound ziti
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1 cup ricotta cheese
1-1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pesto

    In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook pasta seven minutes, until partially cooked. Drain. Rinse with cold water and drain thoroughly.
    In a medium saucepan, heat 1-1/2 tablespoons oil over moderately low heat. Add onion and cook about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add tomatoes, salt and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat and cook about 10 minutes, until thick. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Remove bay leaf.
    In a small bowl, combine ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella, half the Parmesan, pesto and the remaining pepper.
    Put half the cooked pasta in an oiled eight-inch square baking dish and top with about a third of the tomato sauce. Spread ricotta mixture on the sauce in an even layer. Cover with remaining pasta and the remaining sauce. Top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan. Drizzle with remaining oil and bake in a 350-degree oven about 30 minutes, until bubbling. Let sit 10 minutes before cutting.

 

 

Baked Rigatoni With Broccoli, Green Olives and Pancetta

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing
1-1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 thyme sprigs
1/2 cup torn basil leaves, plus 1 basil sprig
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 pounds broccoli, cut into small florets, stems reserved for another use
1 4-ounce slice pancetta, finely diced
1 large onion, very finely chopped
1 cup pitted green olives, such as Castelvetrano, halved
1 pound rigatoni
2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

    On a rimmed baking sheet, toss tomatoes, garlic, thyme and basil sprigs with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast in a 425-degree oven about 20 minutes, until softened and browned in spots. Let cool. Discard thyme and basil sprigs and coarsely chop tomatoes and garlic, reserving any juices.
    On another rimmed baking sheet, toss broccoli florets with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast 15 minutes, until crisp-tender.
    In a large, deep skillet, heat remaining olive oil. Add pancetta and cook over moderately high heat about five minutes, stirring occasionally, until browned and nearly crisp. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, about five minutes, until softened. Stir in olives, tomatoes, garlic and butter and keep warm.
    In a pot of salted boiling water, cook rigatoni until al dente. Drain, reserving 1-1/4 cups cooking water. Stir pasta into the skillet along with the reserved cooking water, broccoli, ricotta, torn basil and 1/2 cup Parmigiano. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to a buttered 9-by-13-inch glass or ceramic baking dish. Sprinkle remaining Parmigiano on top and bake 15 minutes, until bubbling and browned on top. Let stand five minutes before serving.

 

Baked Rigatoni With Milk-Braised Pork, Ricotta and Lemon

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4-pound boneless pork shoulder roast
Kosher salt
Pepper
12 garlic cloves
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 quarts whole milk  
6 rosemary sprigs, plus chopped rosemary for garnish
1 bay leaf  
5 3-inch strips of lemon zest
1 pound rigatoni  
2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
Freshly grated pecorino cheese

    In a large, enameled cast-iron casserole dish, heat two tablespoons olive oil. Rub pork all over with remaining olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add to casserole and cook over moderately high heat about eight minutes, until browned all over. Transfer to a plate. Add garlic and cook one to two minutes, stirring, until golden. Add wine and cook about two minutes, until almost evaporated.
    Add milk, rosemary sprigs, bay leaf and lemon zest to casserole and bring to a simmer. Add pork and braise in a 375-degree oven about three hours, until the meat is very tender. Let the pork cool in the casserole to room temperature.
    Transfer pork to a work surface and cut in half. Coarsely chop one piece and reserve the remaining pork for another use. Working in two batches, puree the cooking liquid in a blender until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing down on the solids.
    In a pot of salted boiling water, cook pasta until very al dente. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add chopped pork and three cups strained cooking liquid, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Transfer pasta to a lightly greased a 3-1/2 to four-quart baking dish and dollop ricotta on top. Cover with foil and bake in a 425-degree oven about 20 minutes, until pasta is tender. Uncover and bake about 15 minutes longer, until golden on top. Garnish with pepper and chopped rosemary. Serve with grated pecorino.
    Braised pork can be refrigerated in its cooking liquid for 3 days.

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