Town & Gourmet: Pasta al Forno

Pasta al forno (baked pasta) is a great dish that you can prepare and assemble ahead of time. It looks beautiful, it’s easy, and best of all, it’s delicious! Below you will find a version with meat, and one without, both very good and equally simple: Pasta al Forno

Ingredients

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  • 1 large can of tomatoes – It’s worth the extra $2 if you can find San Marzano tomatoes because their flavor is the best. I also love Pomi’, which is available in the local grocery store here, but may be hard to find elsewhere.
  • Pomi’ is great because it’s already pureed and it has a delicious tomato flavor. For whole or crushed tomatoes, I like to quickly puree them in the blender or with a hand blender for a smoother sauce.
  • ½ small onion, chopped finely
  • 1 stalk of celery, finely chopped
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • *Note – as a timesaver, I often buy the mirepoix mix of chopped onions, carrots and celery from Trader Joe’s – I would use half of the container for this recipe – keep the other half for soups or pot pie or freeze it for later
  • 1 lb ground beef – or go crazy and use meatloaf mix
  • 1 glass of red wine}extra virgin olive oilsea salt
  • 1 1-lb box short pasta – I like penne rigate or rigatoni but use what you like 1 lb of mozzarella cheese cut into small pieces (1”) – again, I turn to Trader Joe’s here when I can – they have a package of fresh mozzarella that comes already sliced – so cutting it into smaller pieces is that much easier
  • Grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese (yes, it does make a difference! It is better than the stuff in the green box that doesn’t need to be refrigerated!)

 

Instructions

  1. For meat sauce: Put 1-2 T of olive oil in a sauce pot over medium heat. If you wantto get my special recipe you can simply contact me here. Add onions, celery and carrot and sauté until onions begin to turn translucent. Stir so they don’t stick to the bottom. Add ground beef and break it up with wooden spoon, allowing it to brown, stirring every couple minutes until most of meat is brown.
  2. Add glass of red wine, let alcohol evaporate and stir up any bits stuck to bottom. Add pureed tomatoes. Rinse tomato can with ¼- ½ cup water and pour water into pot. Add 1 teaspoon salt.
  3. Bring to boil, then turn down to simmer and cook about 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, making sure it’s not burning or sticking on the bottom.

For vegetarian sauce:

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  1. Heat 1-2 T of olive oil in a sauce pot over low-medium heat. Add onions and sauté until they begin to turn translucent. Stir so they don’t stick to the bottom.
  2. Do not let them turn brown. Add pureed tomatoes.
  3. Rinse tomato can with ¼- ½ cup water and pour water into pot. Add 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to boil, then turn down to simmer and cook about 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so, making sure it’s not burning or sticking on the bottom.To cook the pasta: As the sauce is nearing its finished cooking time, bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat.
  4. Whenwater is boiling, drop in 1-2 T of sea salt. Salted pasta water means tasty pasta. Add pasta and cook until al dente – I usually cook it 2 minutes less than whatever it says on the package. Don’t forget that it’s going in the oven after this, so it will cook some more. When pasta is ready, drain it and return it to the pot.
  5. Quickly add 1-2 ladles of sauce to the pasta and stir it all together. This keeps the pasta from sticking to itself and coats it with your delicious sauce.To assemble the dish: Preheat oven to 350 (or assemble the dish now and then refrigerate up to one day before baking.)In a baking dish – I like pyrex but you can use a lasagna pan or whatever other pan you like – spread a thin layer of the sauce on the bottom.
  6. Then add a layer of pasta from your pasta maker, cover with some sauce and some mozzarella, another layer of pasta, sauce, mozzarella, and a 3rd there is enough. Otherwise, 2 layers are fine. Put any remaining sauce on the top and sprinkle grated parmigiano cheese liberally all over. (You want to still see tomato, but be generous.)Baking from warm – bake for 30 min at 350.
    Baking from fridge – bake for 45-60 min at 350.Add a couple of fresh basil leaves in the middle of the dish when you serve it for a festive touch of color. Buon appetito!

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