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Oven-sent

Baked pasta fills the kitchen with divine aroma and the table with golden goodness.

Baked pasta (Globe photo / Jim Scherer)
By Adam Ried
December 12, 2010

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Pasta is universally beloved in any form, but perhaps none more than when it’s baked. Golden, aromatic, and topped with toasty cheese, baked pasta dishes emanate warmth, welcome, and a sense of home, rendering most mortals powerless to resist. There are pitfalls to these dishes, though. Often oversauced and overbaked, they can turn sodden. To hedge against a heavy texture, I spread mine into a wide, shallow dish of about 3 quarts – any shape will do – and bake it for a short time, no more than 30 minutes, in a hot oven, usually 425 to 450 degrees.

Simple Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Mozzarella

Serves 6

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for baking dish

3 cloves garlic, minced

1½ teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

3 14½-ounce cans diced tomatoes

¼teaspoon sugar

Salt

1½ cups grated Parmesan

12 ounces stubby pasta, cooked just shy of al dente, drained

½ pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 3/8-inch cubes

1¼ cups chopped fresh basil

Black pepper

Adjust oven rack to center position; heat oven to 450 degrees. Smear shallow 3-quart baking dish with a thin coat of oil and set aside.

In large skillet over low heat, warm 2 tablespoons oil. Add garlic, oregano, and crushed pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Add tomatoes, sugar, and 1½ teaspoons salt, stir, adjust heat to medium-high and bring to strong simmer. Adjust heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens slightly, about 7 minutes. Add 1 cup Parmesan; stir to mix.

In large bowl toss pasta and sauce to combine. Add remaining oil, mozzarella, 1 cup basil, and black pepper to taste and toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper if necessary.

Scrape pasta mixture into prepared dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan and bake until heated through and surface is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining basil and serve at once.

Schinkenfleckerl

(Austrian Baked Pasta)

Serves 6

Unsalted butter, softened, for baking dish

10 slices bacon

2 medium onions, finely chopped

2 tablespoons gin or dry white wine

4 eggs, separated

1 cup creme fraiche

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1¼ cups grated Appenzeller or gruyere cheese

½ cup chopped fresh parsley

Salt and pepper

12 ounces medium egg noodles, cooked just shy of al dente, drained, rinsed with cold water

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Adjust oven rack to center position; heat oven to 425 degrees. Smear shallow 3-quart baking dish with a thin coat of butter and set aside.

In large skillet over medium-low heat, fry bacon until lightly browned, about 7 minutes. Drain on paper towel-lined plate, then chop (you should have about 1¼ cups); set aside. Pour off all but 2 teaspoons fat from skillet and return to medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 4 minutes. Add gin or wine and with wooden spoon scrape bottom of skillet to dissolve any brown bits; set aside to cool briefly.

In large bowl vigorously whisk yolks until light. Add creme fraiche, nutmeg, ¾ cup grated cheese, parsley, bacon, onions, 2½ teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper and whisk until uniform. Add noodles and toss to combine.

With mixer or whisk, in a large bowl beat whites and cream of tartar to form medium peaks. Add to noodle mixture and, using large flexible spatula, fold to combine.

Scrape noodle mixture into prepared dish and spread evenly. Sprinkle with remaining gruyere and bake until heated through and surface is lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Serve at once.

Baked Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Ricotta

Serves 6

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for baking dish

Salt

1 medium bunch (about 1 pound) broccoli rabe, washed, thick ends trimmed

6 ounces thick-cut capicola, cut into ½-inch pieces

2 medium onions, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced (about 4 cups)

8 cloves garlic, minced

2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/3cup dry white wine

1/3 cup chicken broth

12 ounces stubby pasta, cooked just shy of al dente, drained

1½ cups grated pecorino Romano

Black pepper

2 cups fresh ricotta

Adjust oven rack to center position; heat oven to 450 degrees. Smear shallow 3-quart baking dish with a thin coat of oil and set aside. Bring 4 quarts water to boil over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt and rabe and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, fill large bowl with ice water. Drain rabe in a colander, then dump into ice water. Drain again, squeeze out as much liquid as possible, chop, and set aside.

Wipe out now-empty pot, add ¼ cup olive oil, and heat over medium until shimmering. Add capicola and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove capicola to a bowl. Add onions and pinch of salt to pot and cook, stirring frequently, until golden, about 8 minutes. Add garlic, thyme, and crushed pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add wine and broth and stir, scraping bottom of pot with wooden spoon to dissolve any brown bits; simmer for about 2 minutes. Add pasta, rabe, capicola, 1 cup Romano, 2 teaspoons salt, and black pepper to taste and toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and black pepper if necessary.

Scrape half the pasta mixture into prepared dish and dot with half the ricotta. Add rest of pasta mixture, spread evenly, dot with remaining ricotta, and sprinkle with remaining Romano. Bake until heated through and cheese on top is lightly browned, about 25 minutes. Serve at once.

Send comments or suggestions to Adam Ried at cooking@globe.com.

  • December 12, 2010 cover
  • Dec. 12 cover

KITCHEN AIDE
Authentic Austrian

In its natural habitat of Austria, Schinkenfleckerl is made with small pasta squares about the size of a thumbnail and a type of ham called speck. (If you substitute speck for bacon in the recipe above, you do not need to fry it.) Particularly popular in northern Italy and Austria, speck is typically cold-smoked, moderately salted, and aged and spiced according to local customs. It has a texture similar to prosciutto. Speck is available at Formaggio Kitchen (244 Huron Avenue, Cambridge, 617-354-4750, formaggiokitchen.com) and Karl’s Sausage Kitchen (142 Broadway, Saugus, 781-233-3099, karlssausage.com).