Who doesn't like a baked cheesy pasta dish? While macaroni and cheese is the standout in this category -- that timeless childhood favorite coated in bechamel, rippling with cheese and crowned with crispy breadcrumbs -- I will suggest that you can have your baked pasta and cheese, and riff a little, too. What you get out of the deal is variety, an excuse to use up any lingering vegetables in your fridge, and an opportunity to add some extra goodies -- like sausage, if you're so inclined. Simply mound them into a baking dish, along with nearly al dente pasta and gads of cheese, then bake until melty and golden. All your mac 'n' cheese-loving family members, I dare say, will never dream of objecting.
I make dishes like this when I am looking for a quick solution for an easy dinner. It can be on the table in about 30 minutes, and it's likely to be devoured in half that time. This version is lighter than mac 'n cheese and loaded with veggies. To moisten the pasta (there's no bechamel sauce, after all), I use some of the starchy cooking water to bind the ingredients and add fresh mozzarella for creaminess. The key to precooking the pasta is to cook until just short of al dente. The pasta will continue to cook when the gratin is finished in the oven.
Baked Pasta With Roasted Tomatoes, Sausage and Kale
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
12 ounces pasta, such as gemelli or farfalle
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces chorizo or hot Italian sausage, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 cup halved grape tomatoes
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 bunch lacinato kale leaves, ribs discarded, torn into bite-size pieces
1 (8-ounce) fresh mozzarella, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or parmesan), divided
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until 1 to 2 minutes short of al dente. Scoop out 1/2 cup water and reserve, then drain the pasta.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large, deep ovenproof skillet over medium-high. Add the sausage and brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a plate lined with a paper towel and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the skillet.
Add the tomatoes to the skillet and saute until they release their juices and soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the kale and saute until the leaves soften, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the pasta and 1/4 cup of the reserved water to the skillet and toss or stir to combine. If the pasta seems too dry, add the remaining water a splash at a time until the pasta is moist, but not wet. Stir in the mozzarella and 1 cup Pecorino. Sprinkle the 1/2 cup Pecorino over the top of the pasta and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake until the top begins to color and the cheese melts, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.
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