Only a couple of hours after my post about Gnocchi went up, I got a call from a friend. My friend always checks my Blog at work, when her boss thinks she’s clearing important overnight e-mail from other time zones. Silly boss! Anyway, she asked how Baked Gnocchi ties in with Baked Ziti…
Where does it belong?
Baked Pasta in Italy covers a lot of menu territory. We all know about Lasagna. You now know about Gnocchi. They even make Baked Spaghetti, like a Pie. I’ll bet many of you have had pastas such as Penne, Tubetini and various sizes of Ziti. But you can do much more with those shapes than just drown them in Tomato Sauce and grating Cheese on top!
Baked Ziti is perhaps the most popular and best known of a whole class of Italian dishes under the ‘Pasta Al Forno’ umbrella – Pasta from the Oven. Ziti is simply a medium-sized tubular pasta, cut into 1-1.5 in.(3-4 cm) pieces. The beauty of pastas like this is that you can get Saucers and Cheese inside them, as well as on them.
In summation, and to give a straight answer to my friend’s question… Pasta Al Forno occupies a rather large space in the Pasta universe between Mac & Cheese and Lasagna.
Pasta Al Forno tips…
I’ve made Pasta al Forno with as little as 6 ingredients. Most traditional recipes have more. Lots more. But I like to keep things simple, where possible, so I’m going to gi e you y adaptation of Mrs. indovina’s Baked Pasta recipe. You can use any tubular Pasta you like with this one, Even swirly ones like Fusili and Rotini. The latter have ridges to trap Sauce and Cheese, which renders them legit.
Mrs. Indovina always used Ziti for her Baked Pasta – so she said – and always called it ‘Baked Ziti’.
30 g Porccini Mushrooms (fresh, not dried; regular White ones will do, but it won’t be quite the same)
3-4 Italian Sausages (fresh, uncooked; use mild or hot, to your taste)
700 g / 1 large (28 oz.) can Crushed Tomatoes
200 ml / 1 cup Bechamel Sauce
Two double handfuls Grated Parmesan or Romano Cheese (or more, to taste)
1 clove Garlic (more if you love your Garlic!)
10 ml / 2 tsp. Balsamic Vinegar
Herbs (to taste; Basil, Oregano, Thyme, Coriander…)
Pinches Salt (for seasoning and boiling Pasta)
Pinches Hot Pepper Flakes (to taste)
Splashes Dry Red Wine (to taste)
200 g / 1/2 lb. Dry Pasta (of your choice; see above)
Olive Oil (to cook with; several tablespoons)
Prepare the components…
First, bring a big pot of water to the boil. Add a tablespoon of salt. Add the dry Pasta and allow to cook until just barely al dente – Do not fully cook! The Pasta is going into a casserole with sauce and will continue cooking while baking. Drain Pasta and set aside until it’s time to assemble the casserole.
Next, finely chop your Garlic and sauté it in a medium-hot pan along with a little Olive oil, the Sausages (removed from skins and crumbled into pan) and the Herbs, Balsamic Vinegar, Salt and Hot Pepper Flakes. Cook until Sausage is lightly browned. Add a couple of splashes of Red Wine to deglaze the pan and then add in Tomatoes. Stir for a couple of minutes, until the tomatoes and other sauce components are thoroughly combined. Remove pan from heat and set aside until it’s time to assemble the casserole.
Build the casserole…
Get your oven pe-heating to 375 F.
Pour yourself a glass of Red Wine and congratulate yourself on your progress.
In a large bowl, combine the Bechamel, the Pasta and 1 double handful of Grated Cheese. Be gentle; we don’t want to break the Pasta. But do be thorough; we want to bathe all the interior spaces of our Pasta with Sauce!
Next, drizzle about a tablespoon of Olive Oil in the bottom of a large casserole dish. Brush all over the bottom and sides and then add a spoon or two of the Sausage Sauce to the dish, spreading it evenly over the bottom. The Oil and the Sauce will prevent the casserole from sticking.
Now add the Bechamel and Pasta mixture to the casserole and gently shake or use a spatula to level it. Next come the rest of the Sausage Sauce, which is spread evenly over the top of the Pasta mixture. And, finally, sprinkle the remaining double handful of Grated Cheese evenly all over the top of the casserole.
Bake for 45-60 minutes at 375 F, or until the sauces are bubbling and the Cheese on top is golden brown. When done move from oven and set aside to rest. Do not attempt to cut for 20 minutes or so, or until the sauces have stopped bubbling!
While waiting for the casserole to resat, pour yourself another glass of Red Wine, to congratulate yourself on a job well done!
It may sound a little complex and work-intensive, but it really isn’t. And the result is really, really worth it!
~ Maggie J.