As a critic of unfortunately soft and too-saucy foods, the concept of baked pasta has never appealed to me. The whole “dump ingredients into a baking dish and hope for the best” thing feels like the food equivalent of wearing sweatpants to run errands (please don’t do it!). When it comes to carbohydrate consumption, you can have your baking dish full of cheese pulls and overcooked penne and I’ll take my skillet of al dente just-glossed strands of spaghetti.
But then again, if I’m making pasta for a crowd, I’d prefer to have something that can be assembled, say, ahead of time. Something that doesn’t require my attention while guests arrive, can feed up to eight people, contains more cheese than should be legally allowed, and has an almost so-retro-it’s-cool-again feel. So I guess what I’m trying to say is: I want baked pasta.
But I want a really good version.
I go the greens-and-cheese route, which to me seems a little more elevated than the tomato route. It reminds me of broccoli-cheddar soup (a taste I enjoyed as a child and have pretty much been chasing for the better part of my adult life), but better and with lots of texture (my top priority).
Loads of wilted leeks and greens (I like the bitterness of broccoli rabe) get tossed with heavy cream (which negates the need for a béchamel here—I will do anything to avoid making a béchamel), grated cheese, and very al dente pasta. You can use any tubular shape you enjoy, but I will say there is an unspoken hierarchy, with, obviously, rigatoni at the top and penne at the bottom. (And okay, casarecce is a good one too if I’m feeling fancy and at a nice shop.) Please do not cook this pasta past al dente—as the pasta bakes it continues to cook and soften, and if the pasta is past al dente, then, well, you’ll end up with mush and that’s not what we signed up for. Breadcrumbs—which I would describe as extremely not optional here—provide much-needed crunchy bits (my favorite bits).
After it bakes for longer than you think (you’re crisping and browning!), you have a crunchy, still-saucy, veg-forward dish of pleasingly al dente pasta with browned breadcrumbs, wispy greens, and bits of cheese. A baked pasta even I can love.
Get the recipe:Alison Roman
Originally Appeared on Bon Appétit