November 19, 2009

pasta al forno

One of the things I like best about autumn (and there are many) is that the cool days signal a return to comfort food and nothing spells comfort to me like pasta al forno, or baked pasta.

Like so much of my cooking, this dish brings me back to my childhood when every Sunday, rain or shine, snow or scorching heat, our extended family would set out on a picnic. But no sandwiches for us, thank you very much, and pasta al forno made a regular appearance on our picnic table with us kids fighting over who would get the corners with the crusty bits!

So when I was invited to a potluck recently there was no question as to what I would bring!

I decided to use paccheri, a large tubular shape which is traditionally Neapolitan. You want a large pasta shape for this dish so that it holds up to the heat of the oven and, while you can use rigatoni or even penne, paccheri maintain a nice chew after baking.

I parboiled the pasta and added it to a simmering pot of tomato sauce with tiny meatballs. While the pasta was cooking I made a b├ęchamel sauce - this is totally optional but it adds a nice creaminess to the finished dish and it's a cinch to make.

After that, all that was left was to layer - first the sauced pasta, then the b├ęchamel, finally a little grated mozzarella (not too much) and repeat.

Bake in a 375°F oven, covered with foil, until hot and bubbly (30-45 minutes depending on the size of your dish). Remove the foil and increase heat to 425°F until the top is browned. Don't scrimp on this last step because the crusty bits around the edges are the best part!

Allow to stand for at least 15 minutes before serving then stand back and reap the praise!

Pasta al forno is my contribution to this week's Presto Pasta Nights hosted this week by Kait of Pots and Plots. Visit Kait's blog on Friday for some weekend pasta inspiration from this week's roundup.


  1. UUUMM!!! I want to go on YOUR picnic. Beats chicken and potato salad any day

  2. Your photos are absolutely gorgeous! As for pasta al takes me back to my childhood too. Still one of the most comforting of all pastas for me.

    Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Nights.

  3. This is comfort food at it's best. I love fall in Ontario with the crisp air and leaves swishing under your feet.

  4. Not only did my family not have picnics, but we certainly wouldn't have had pasta al forno! What a neat idea. This pasta shape looks delicious.

    And yes, baked pasta dishes are one of the best things about cooler weather.

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