It started with a viral TikTok post about baked feta and cherry tomatoes. Easy to make and mixed with pasta for a quick dinner, everyone was on it.
For thousands of years, Italians have been making all kinds of baked pasta dishes – they are the backbone of family eating. Some are more complicated, lasagna for example with its many layers; some of the rolled ones take time and are finicky; but some take only minutes to put together and are deeply flavoured.
There are a few rules. For the best results, use pasta with ridges like rigatoni or penne rigate. Sauce clings better to textured noodles. I also like orecchiette because the sauce pools in the little “ears.” Avoid long noodles or fine pastas, which can become too soft and limp.
Undercook your pasta. It continues to cook in the sauce and would be mushy if you initially cooked it right through. The pasta may seem a bit raw when you start, but it will be perfect after baking. My rule of thumb is to cook the pasta for 6 to 7 minutes after the well-salted water comes back to the boil. If you are putting together the dish for baking right away, drain the pasta but don’t rinse (the sauce clings better). If you want to finish it later, rinse the pasta with cold water until it is completely cooled. Combine with sauce before baking.
If the top is not flecked with brown after baking, broil for a minute or two to give it a toasty finish.
The cheese should impart taste and texture. Make sure you use one that melts well. Try fontina, provolone and mozzarella, as well as stronger flavoured Taleggio, Pecorino Romano and others. Smoked cheese adds flavour. Fresh cheese, fresh mozzarella, buffalo mozzarella and burrata are creamy stars if added for the last 20 minutes in large chunks.
Use a pan size that fits the ingredients. You want it filled to the top. Freeze leftovers unless you can consume them within five days. Leftover baked pasta makes a great breakfast with an egg on top.
These two simple baked pasta recipes take no time to put together and give ultimate pleasure.
Recipe: Baked pasta with cherry tomatoes and burrata
Toss 2 packed cups cherry tomatoes with ¼ cup olive oil, 4 sliced garlic cloves, 1 sliced shallot, salt, pepper and a sprig of rosemary. Bake at 375F for 30 minutes or until tomatoes have collapsed. Toss with 8 ounces semi-cooked pasta. Sink a whole burrata in the middle and bake for another 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and pasta is al dente.
Recipe: Pasta with ricotta, prosciutto, spinach
Boil pasta and for the last minute add 2 packed cups chopped spinach. Drain, reserving 1/4 cup pasta cooking water. Reserve pasta and spinach. Combine 2 ounces diced prosciutto, 1 cup ricotta mixed with ½ cup milk and pasta cooking water. Toss pasta and spinach with ricotta mixture. Season with salt and pepper and ½ to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Place in oiled baking dish. Cover with 1 cup grated fontina and 1/4 cup grated parmesan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes at 375 F.
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