Pasta al forno, which is just a fancy shmancy (read, Italian) way of saying baked pasta.
In case you were wondering , Italians can make almost anything sound romantic!
Pasta al forno can be any form of baked pasta…lasagna, cannelloni, rotelli, or just a simple “throw everything together and call it a day” pasta dishes like this!
I love making lasagna for big family get togethers. However, I’m not gonna lie. It take a ton of time – especially if you make it our way with fresh pasta and all.
So, I thought I would do a pasta al forno version that mimics lasagna without the fuss.
Now, the hardest part of this dish is making the meat sauce. I’d love it if you could make this from scratch just like the directions below say (heck, make a double or triple batch and freeze it…it’s perfect for those hurried days when you just want to defrost something and throw it on top of cooked pasta).
Another secret about this sauce? If you warm it up and throw a bottle of salsa in it, it miraculously becomes taco filling.
But if you don’t feel like being epic today, you can just brown up the meat and add in your favorite bottled store bought sauce (it won’t be the same, but it’ll do!).
Once the meat sauce is done, it’s just about layering…
Half the pasta and meat sauce go into your baking dish…
Laddle over the ricotta mixture and spread…
Top with the rest of your pasta and, if you’re making this for another time, just wrap it up and call it a day (until you need to pull it out of the freezer)…
When you’re ready to bake it, you just whip up a bechamel (again, fancy shmancy word for white sauce), and, if you’re saying, “I can’t do that!”, I’m saying, “oh yes you can!!”.
It’s just a few steps…
Melt the butter and stir in flour…
Add in the warm milk and whisk vigorously until a sauce forms!
Tada!!! You just passed part of culinary 101 (this is one of 7 mother sauces you learn in culinary school).
When you’re ready to cook your dish, pour the sauce over your cooked pasta, top with cheese and bake until ooey gooey!!
I’m adding this to a Christmas post so, after it was baked, I place chopped fresh spinach on top in the shape of a tree and placed some blistered cherry tomatoes on top! Instant holiday goodness!!
Try it out on your fam before the big day and play with the flavours (add whatever you think might go in here – eggplant, mushrooms, black olives, caramelized onions, etc). You might even consider buying a red cape…you know, superhero style!!
Pin this image to your Pinterest board so you won’t forget it!!
Pasta Al Forno
This dish is a perfect make ahead dish - especially for the holidays! Make it all up to the point of the bechamel, wrap it up and freeze it. When you're ready to cook it, put the bechamel on it and bake away!!
- 1 box rigatoni (or other pasta)
- 2 cans San Marzano tomatoes (796 ml)
- 250 grams ground pork (about 1/2 pound)
- 250 grams ground beef or veal (about 1/2 pound)
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 medium carrot, chopped
- 1 stalk/rib celery, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 can tomato paste (about 2-3 tbsp) you can freeze the other half for another time)
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tsp oregano
- 1 pinch red pepper flakes, optional
- 1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
- 1 carton ricotta (about 300ml)
- 1 egg
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups milk
- 6 tbsp butter, unsalted if possible
- 3 1/2 tbsp flour
- 1/2 cup provolone cheese, shredded
- 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan
Preheat oven to 350°. Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente; drain.
In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, parmesan and salt and pepper; set aside.
Meanwhile, coarsely chop tomatoes right in the can with kitchen shears; set aside.
In a 6-qt. stockpot, cook both ground meats (breaking up with a wooden spoon) with onion, carrot, celery and garlic over medium-high heat until no longer pink, 6-8 minutes; drain. Stir in tomato paste, seasonings, chopped tomatoes and reserved juices; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 10 minutes
Stir in 1/4 cup each Parmesan cheese and parsley and stir in pasta, then transfer half to a greased 13x9-in. baking dish, spread ricotta mixture evenly over first layer of pasta and then top with the rest of the pasta (note: if you are freezing it, now is the time for you to cool the mixture, wrap it well and put it in the freezer...if you are serving now, continue making the bechamel).
Warm the milk in a separate saucepan or in the microwave until warm to the touch and set aside.
Melt the butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat, but do not let it brown.
Add the flour and stir it quickly into the butter with a wooden spoon (the butter and flour will be a mixture that looks like wet scrambled eggs at first).
Cook and stir the flour-butter mixture about 5 to 8 minutes (the butter and flour will dry out slightly and turn just a bit darker to a more golden color - do not let it brown or darken.
Pour in just a few tablespoons of the hot milk, just enough to moisten the flour and butter mixture. Stir thoroughly to loosen up the thick flour mixture.
With your whisk, gradually add the rest of the milk to the loosened flour mixture while whisking constantly' whisk vigorously until smooth.
Cook, stirring constantly, until starting to bubble and thicken. You will be left with a thick, warm, creamy mix of flour, butter, and milk.
If frozen: To use, partially thaw in refrigerator overnight. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before baking. Make the bechamel and pour over top; add shredded cheeses. Preheat oven to 350°. Bake casserole for about 30-40 min, increasing time as necessary to heat through.