Baked Pasta (or Pasta al Forno)
The great thing about baked pasta (or pasta al forno) is that you can use most any dry pasta shape you find at your local market, though short pasta like rigatoni or penne work best. We used the shape Mezzi Fischiotti, essentially Ditaloni (or short rigatoni), but with ridges. Don’t confuse baked pasta with baked ziti, even if they sound similar in name; baked ziti is firmly situated in the Italian American tradition and usually includes more meats, cheeses (including ricotta), boiled eggs in some instances, etc. and is generally a much denser dish (though equally tasty).
Italy, of course, is famous for many variations on the baked pasta theme but the simplest, in my view, is pasta al forno and unlike, for example, lasagna it doesn’t require a fancy beschemel sauce just some leftover tomato sauce (preferably with a bit meat), mozzarella, grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, and maybe a bit of Scamorza (a smoked mozzarella). Pasta al forno is consumed all over Italy and considered “fast food” and served as a first course, though it’s perfectly suitable as a weekday meal (including a salad, some olives, and maybe a few pieces of salumi).
- 1 pound of pasta (rigatoni or penne is ideal)
- 2 cups of tomato sauce (meat sauce is ideal)
- 1 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano
- 1-2 cups of cubed mozzarella
- 1 cup of cubed Scamorza (you can omit this cheese if you can’t find it in your area)
Cook your pasta (it can be al dente or cooked soft, the great thing about baked pasta is that it’s very forgiving) and drain into a large bowl. Laddle about 3/4 of the sauce into the bowl and mix well. In a large baking dish, add a bit of extra virgin oil and use your hands to cover the entire surface. Poor about half of the pasta mixture into the pan and add a layer of grated cheese, mozzarella, Scamorza, and tomato sauce. Poor in the remaining pasta and form a second layer and repeat the process with the tomato sauce and cheeses. Bake at 375°F for about 25-30 minutes and let rest for about 10 minutes prior to serving (note: if you don’t let the pasta rest you’ll have oozing mess, I know it’s hard to let the pasta sit and not dig in but it’s worth the wait!). If you want to create additional layers then go for it!