Pasta al forno (baked pasta) – pasta shells with rapini
There is something about pasta al forno that is very comforting and satisfying. Maybe it’s the slightly charred bits on top, or the creamy sauce around the pasta, or the melted cheese. Whatever it is, I sometimes crave the flavours and texture of a pasta that is cooked just below al dente, then mixed with a a sauce and baked in the oven until crispy on top and slightly charred here and there.
I tend to make pasta al forno mostly in the winter, but since we were away all winter, I had to catch up on old favourites so made it now on a cool day.
My favourite pasta shape for baked pasta is medium size shells. The shape is perfect to catch the sauce and bits of vegetables and retains nice texture after boiling and baking. Don’t use too large or too small shells. Medium size works best.
The sauce in this recipe is particularly rich. You can serve this dish three ways: first, the lightest version, cook the vegetables, toss the pasta with the vegetables, grate cheese on top and serve. Second, make the cream sauce, pour over the pasta and vegetables, mix and serve with additional grated parmesan or pecorino. Third, serve baked as suggested in this recipe.
Note: to serve this you need bowls that are oven proof. Don’t use deep bowls, they should be not too deep so you get more surface area exposed to the get brown and crisp in the oven
8 oz pasta shells, medium size
1 bunch Italian style broccoli (rapini or broccolini), chopped in bite size pieces
2 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 cups cream
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 cup grated pecorino
Bread crumb topping:
1 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs or panko crumbs
2 tablespoons butter, melted
A handful chopped parsley
1/2 cup grated parmesan or pecorino
Place the cream and cheeses in a small pot and bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook on very low until the sauce slightly thickens. Turn off heat and keep warm.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions but just below al dente. Don’t overcook the pasta because it will continue to cook in the oven.
Heat up the oil in a skillet large enough to hold the pasta as well, add the chopped rapini and cook, stirring, until it is crisp tender to your liking.
When the pasta is ready add it to the skillet with the rapini and toss to mix.
Add the warm sauce and toss to mix.
Divide the pasta between the serving bowls (see note above).
Mix the bread crumbs with the melted butter, cheese and parsley.
Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the pasta in the bowls.
Bake in 400F oven until crisp on top and charred in a few spots.