This is a recipe from one of my favorite old cookbooks, Johanne Killeen and George Germon's Cucina Simpatica: Robust Trattoria Cooking From Al Forno . Johanne and George are the chefs behind one of our region's finest restaurants, Al Forno in Providence R.I.. Famous for their grilled pizzas and hearty braises, they have also made a name for themselves as masters of baked pastas. One of our favorite dishes here at Oui, Chef (in fact, its Muppet's favorite pasta of all-time) is their baked pasta with lemon, asparagus and prosciutto, a light and flavorful dish bright with lemon and herbs. Sadly, light is not an adjective I'd use to describe this dish so if you are still in the middle of your spring cleanse, then you best click elsewhere and save yourself some suffering.
As heart attacks go, this one is damned tasty, super flexible and oh so easy to put together. So, if you're not yet on your bikini-season diet, let's carry-on shall we.
This recipe provides an excellent way to use up various scraps of cheeses lying about, which is why I reached for it a few nights ago when the weather turned rainy and cool. Whether it be half eaten wedges from a cocktail party cheese platter, or remnants left from your last make-your-own pizza dinner, whatever you have laying about for cheese can find a happy use in this creamy slice of heaven. It is so good that my friends at Food52 recently highlighted this lovely as a "Genius" recipe, one that is so delicious and simple that it should be a staple of every cook's repertoire. Amen.
For my most recent swing at this dish I used some crumbled gorgonzola left over from a salad we'd made, some fontina and mozzarella from last week's pizza night, and romano and parmesan that I always have on-hand for grating on just about anything that doesn't move. The one thing I didn't have (and didn't want to buy for the 2 tablespoons required) was fresh ricotta. What did I use instead? The dregs from a tub of cream cheese that had been loitering in the fridge for a few too many days. Like I said, any kind of cheese works here.
While you may be tempted to pass on the tomatoes and basil, and craft instead a rather sophisticated mac and cheese, don't. While these added tastes don't seem like much when measured against FIVE different kinds of cheese, they really are what elevate this dish to its aforementioned "Genius" status by providing some acidity and interest to what might otherwise be an overwhelmingly cheesy experience.
Cheers – Steve
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup chopped canned tomatoes in heavy puree
- 1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
- 1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) freshly grated fontina cheese
- 1/4 cup (1 1/2 ounces) crumbled gorgonzola cheese
- 2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
- 1/4 pound thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water
- 6 large, fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
- 1 pound penne rigate or conchiglie rigate
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter, thinly sliced
- Heat oven to 500℉.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except the pasta and butter. Stir well to combine.
- Drop the pasta into the boiling water and parboil for 4 minutes. Drain in a colander and add to the ingredients in the mixing bowl, tossing to combine.
- Place in a shallow (1 inch) layer in a large baking dish. Dot with the butter, and bake until brown and bubbly on top, 7 to 10 minutes.