Baked Pasta 101
The magic of baked pasta is in its variations. Sometimes its inspired by the seasons, maybe what you grew in your own garden. Other times it’s simply a matter of practicality, as in what do you have on hand. Some of the best baked pasta dishes come from a little adventure and risk-taking (and often a nice helping of some sort of leftovers from the night before).
A History of Baked Goodness
Oven-baked pasta has a long, long history… we mean Middle Ages kind of history. A pasta meal was an opportunity for a chef to show off his creativity and resourcefulness. Eventually baked pasta, or pasta al forno, was adopted all over Italy. Today, baked pasta is a staple dish of Southern Italy, where it’s usually made on Sundays, holidays and special occasions. They like to call it piatto unico—one serving as a complete meal with protein, carbs, veggies and dairy.
Like the food philosophy of many domestic chefs, a lot of what goes into baked pasta depends on what’s in the refrigerator or pantry. Much of Italy’s cuisine does depend on regional foods and traditions too.
Northern Italy is all about heartier ingredients. Hey, it gets cold up there! Butter, pork fat, heavy starches and meaty ragùs reign. In Southern Italy, baked pasta dishes are usually loaded up with vegetables (like eggplant and peppers), as well as meats cured in the region (sopressata, prosciutto and sausages).
Some Baked Pasta Tips
- Choose Your Noodle: What cut you choose matters to your pasta meal, baked or otherwise. We always want to stress the importance of selecting just-the-right pasta cut. For pasta dishes, avoid long cuts (like spaghetti) all together. Short cuts with hollows (rigatoni, penne, etc.) are perfect for holding onto thicker sauces and scoopable ingredients.
- No Mush, No Way: To avoid mushy noodles, be sure you don’t overcook your pasta before assembling your recipe. Try for a super al dente texture (which means its chewy and firm). The liquid in the dish will continue the pasta-cooking process when baking.
- Get Saucy: Make sure there’s enough liquid in your pan to keep everything moist. There’s nothing worse than dry pasta. Don’t judge a baked by its unc
- Broiler Option: If you’re like us, you love that bubbling oozing top layer that forms that irresistible golden brown crust. Sure, your pasta bake is cooking just fine, but you really want that crust! An easy way to accomplish this (without overdoing the rest of it) is to put it under the broiler for a few minutes. But keep your eyes on it!
- Be patient: We know you’re hungry, but give your baked pasta dishes a chance to rest. We recommend at least 10 minutes to settle after baking.
- Leftovers: Everyone’s experienced a dry mac ‘n cheese in need of revival. We recommend reconstituting with cream or heating in a covered to bring back the moisture.