Italian Comfort Food: How to Make Baked Pasta

There is something so comforting and satisfying about a baked pasta recipe. I guess it reminds me of home, when Mama used to make it for the family almost weekly. I also used to order it at restaurants in Milan, but it originates from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy. This particular dish is so easy to make and can feed a hungry crowd that will be so pleased once they bite into the pasta with creamy besciamella and light ragu. When you’re short for time, you can also make this ahead and freeze it, then bake it when your guests arrive. If you leave out the ragú, it is still delicious and will satisfy any of your vegetarian guests.

Buon Appetito!

Francesco

Penne alla Besciamella & Ragu

Ingredients

1 pound penne pasta

For the ragu:

12 oz. ground beef

1-14 oz. can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1/4 cup Vermentino-Chardonnay

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the Besciamella sauce:

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

5 tablespoons all purpose flour

3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano – plus 4 tablespoons for sprinkling on top

4 1/2 cups milk, simmering

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions: 

For the ragu:

Heat oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook until soft, about 12 minutes.

Add the meat and sauté, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon, stir until browned, about 10 minutes.

Add the wine and stir until it evaporates completely. Scrape all the browned bits from the bottom of the pot and add the San Marzano tomatoes, stir to incorporate. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the Besciamella:

In a large non-stick skillet melt the butter over medium heat.

Stir in the flour and incorporate. Cook for 2 minutes.

Gradually add the simmering milk and whisk to combine.

Whisk continuously, when the sauce is creamy and smooth, turn off the heat and add the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and set aside.

For the pasta:

Preheat the oven to 375°.

In a large pot, bring to a boil 6 quarts of salted water.

Add the penne and cook for about 5 minutes, it will not be cooked, but will finish in the oven.

Drain in a colander.

Return pasta to the pot and add the besciamella and the ragú sauces, mix well until all the pasta is thoroughly coated.

Pour the pasta into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish (or use parchment paper for easy pull up) and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until bubbling and the top turns golden.

Remove from oven and sprinkle the reserved Parmigiano on top. Let rest for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Francesco

Influenced by memories in the kitchen with his mother and grandmother, Italian-born Francesco Romano is the man behind the food blog, Coco de Mama. He shares recipes and culinary knowledge with Mazzoni fans each month.

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