Yes, I realize for many of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Summer is in full swing, with temps soaring well into the 90’s and, incredibly for some, beyond. I, also, know that for many, firing up the oven isn’t necessarily something we’re prone to do when our homes are already sizzling. So, why am I featuring a baked pasta dish today? The answer is simple. Mozzarella. I had plenty of mozzarella in my fridge, left over from the first round of mozzarella making and I needed to do something with it. And lest there be any doubt, when I have a surplus of something, anything, my go-to dish is pasta of some sort. So, considering that mozzarella “performs” so well when baked, I decided to make an “al Forno” recipe.
Growing up, rigatoni was a frequent “guest” at our dinner table, although we kids called them “flat tires.” I don’t recall Mom ever baking rigatoni, though. It wasn’t until I was on my own that I started experimenting with baking penne and rigatoni. Generally, these dishes are easy to assemble, with left-overs that keep well and are easily re-heated. Perfect for my one person household. So, when presented with a bounty of mozzarella, I chose flat tires to help me out.
Normally, when I prepare a baked pasta, I coat the cooked pasta with sauce and cheese of some sort before topping it off with shredded mozzarella. With this dish, however, I reverse things a bit. Butter and Pecorino Romano cheese are used to coat the partially cooked rigatoni but, as you’ll soon see, the mozzarella is chopped into cubes and stirred into the pasta. Once mixed, Asiago cheese is used to top off the dish before baking. Doing so gives one both contrasting flavors and textures. The strong-tasting Asiago, melted until golden, hides not just the sharp Pecorino Romano but the gooey milder tasting mozzarella cubes spread throughout the pasta, as well. It’s a three cheese combination that I enjoy well enough that I don’t really mind turning on the oven in a heat wave.
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Rigatoni al Forno Recipe
- 1 lb rigatoni
- 1 quart tomato sauce (vegetarians use marinara)
- 8 oz Mozzarella
- 8 oz Asiago cheese
- 4 tbsp butter, cut into chunks + a little more to grease the baking dish (optional)
- ¾ cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
- fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish (optional)
- Pre-heat oven to 350˚F.
- Lightly grease a 9 X 13″ baking dish with cooking spray or butter.
- Add rigatoni to a large pot of heavily salted, boiling water. Cook the pasta for half of the time suggested on the package for al dente pasta. Drain and hold until needed.
- Warm sauce and maintain a low simmer.
- Slice and cut the mozzarella cheese into ½ inch cubes. Set aside.
- Use a box grater to shred the Asiago cheese. Set aside.
- Once the pasta has been semi-cooked and drained, return the rigatoni to the now empty pot.
- Add the butter and then the Pecorino Romano to the hot rigatoni, stirring after each until the pasta is well-coated.
- Add the tomato sauce to the pot and stir.
- Add the mozzarella to the pot and gently stir until evenly distributed.
- Place the pasta in a greased 9 x 13″ baking dish. Evenly sprinkle the shredded Asiago cheese on top.
- Bake in pre-heated 350˚F oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the Asiago cheese is melted to your liking.
- Allow to rest 5 minutes before serving, garnished with parsley, if desired.
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For whatever reason, some may find Asiago cheese unappealing. If that’s true for you, there are other cheeses that can be used to top off your dish. Fontina is a good alternative, as is ricotta salata. The choice is really yours, just try to find a cheese that offers a contrasting flavor to the mozzarella. You won’t be disappointed.
Although I used rigatoni for this dish, you can certainly use any of the tube-shaped pastas. Just avoid the ribbon-like pastas. They are not well suited to baked dishes of this type.
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By any other name …
(Because there is no King George III rose.)
Happy 4th of July!
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