Pasta al forno (literally translated baked pasta or pasta bake) is one of the classic Sunday dish of my family.
Just thinking about it, I can clearly remember the smell and the taste of this dish, and the feeling of a family Sunday lunch where everything was good and everybody felt happy just to sit around and eat delicious food. No problems, no thoughts, no worries. Just good food and happy people.
When I asked my grandmother “what’s for lunch today?” and the answer was “pasta al forno!” a sudden feeling of joy invaded me even though after a few seconds another question always came up: “do you mean Lasagne or baked pasta?”
They are pretty much the same thing so they’re usually called the same way: pasta, béchamel, ragù sauce and Parmesan cheese (in this order) but the taste somehow is different, due to the different consistency of the pasta.
While Lasagne are made with thin sheets of pasta, Pasta al forno is made with short cut pasta (Penne, Rigatoni, Fusilli or even Farfalle.. Whatever was available is the cupboard, basically).
This is one of the classic example of “inventing a recipe” with whatever we have in the house which is typical of us Italians. You want to make Lasagne but you don’t have Lasagna pasta on hand and you don’t have time to make some. What to do? What if I try with a different cut of pasta? Ehh what the hell, let’s do this! – And then it was history.
Every family always have in home ragù sauce and béchamel sauce because they are the base for many italian recipes. Either homemade or store bought (hey, nobody’s perfect).
I aways have some Tuscan Ragù Sauce portioned in my freezer all year long and since I always make bechamél homemade (it’s so easy and you need only 3 ingredients) I can practically make baked pasta whenever I want and it’s so satisfying!
How to make the best pasta bake:
- When doing baked pasta or pasta casseroles, remember to boil the pasta 3-4 minutes less than usual as it will continue cooking in the casserole.
- You can add extra ingredients like mushrooms, bell peppers or zucchini to the ragù sauce or make a vegetarial ragù from scratch.
- You can decide if you prefer to layer the ingredients like a Lasagna or to mix it all together (like I did in this recipe). I like both ways. 🙂
Pasta al Forno - Baked Pasta
- 170 g 6 oz. Pasta (short cut like Penne, Fusilli, etc)
- 400 g 14 oz Ragù sauce (see recipe link above)
- Parmesan Cheese
For the Béchamel
- 500 ml 2 cups warm Milk
- 3 tbsp Butter
- 3 tbsp Flour
- Black Pepper
Prepare the Béchamel sauce
- Melt the butter on medium heat and add the sifted flour, whisk until you get the roux. Slowly add the warm milk and keep whisking to avoid lumps (they will melt anyway once it simmers).
- Reduce to low heat and keep whisking until it starts simmering and becoming thicker. Add the salt, black pepper and ground nutmeg to taste. Once the sauce is thick enough to coat a spatula, turn off the heat and set aside.
- Boil the pasta in salted water and drain 3-4 minutes before the normal cooking time.
- If you want to layer it like a Lasagna, start coating the cocottes or a baking pan with a layer of Béchamel so the pasta won't stick. Add a layer of pasta, a layer of Ragù sauce, a layer of Béchamel and sprinkle with Parmesan. Repeat until you reach the top.
- You can also decide to mix the pasta together in a bowl with the Béchamel, the Parmesan cheese and the Ragù sauce and then pour it in the cocottes.
- In both cases, end with a layer of Béchamel and a generous sprinkle of Parmesan cheese for a nice crust.
- Bake in the oven at 190°C (370°F) for about 20 minutes. If needed, leave 2-3 minutes under the grill to get the crispy crust.