This Cheesy Baked Pasta Is Hearty and Easy to Prep
Everyone has a comfort food they gravitate toward. For some, it’s a hearty stew they grew up eating; others, a classic burger and fries. I’ve always held a soft spot for baked pasta, of any and all kinds—ziti, macaroni and cheese, stuffed shells. So when I saw Susan Spungen’s cheesy baked pasta in our March issue, I immediately added it to my to-do list.
The recipe, which comes from her new cookbook, Open Kitchen, combines three cheeses (goat, fontina, and Parmigiano-Reggiano), radicchio, garlic, a splash of red wine vinegar, and prosciutto into one vibrant dish. (Seriously, it's streaked with pink.) It all comes together in an hour, and it can easily be prepared in advance, too. Check out our key tips for making the dish below, compiled from the recipe and our test kitchen.
Cook the Radicchio—and Don’t Forget the Vinegar
The red wine vinegar helps cut through rich, cheesy pasta, but it also brings out the pink in the red onions and radicchio as you saute them, giving the dish that bright color. Radicchio typically has a bitter flavor and crunchy texture, and Spungen mellows that by quickly wilting it in the onion mixture.
Reserve. That. Pasta. Water.
We don’t need to tell you why reserved pasta water is the key to great sauce. But make sure you don’t forget it—it’s all too easy to drain the pasta and realize after it's too late. This recipe calls for a full cup, so it makes a difference.
Add a Pinch of Nutmeg
Nutmeg will add depth and a warming flavor to this dish. Even though the recipe calls for just one eighth of a teaspoon, you’d know if it was missing.
Save the Parmigiano-Reggiano for the Topping
You’ll notice the third cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, isn’t mixed in with the pasta—instead, it’s sprinkled on top. This is because it doesn’t melt quite as well as fontina or goat cheese. However, it does brown beautifully, and adds a nutty, salty crust to the dish.
Make Sure You Don’t Overcook the Pasta
You’ll want to cook the pasta on the stove until it’s just shy of al dente, not all the way. Otherwise, it will overcook once it’s in the oven.
Make It Vegetarian
This dish can easily be made vegetarian-friendly. Just leave out the prosciutto and swap the Parmigiano-Reggiano for a domestic vegetarian Parmesan.
Prep It Ahead of Time
This recipe already comes together quickly; however, if you’re in a time crunch, you can make it the day ahead all the way through to just before it goes in the oven. Day-of, just transfer the pasta to a 3-quart baking dish lightly greased with butter, dot with the remaining fontina cheese and sprinkles of the Parmigiano-Reggiano, and bake until luscious and bubbly.
Get the Recipe: Cheesy Baked Pasta with Radicchio
Buy the book: Open Kitchen by Susan Spungen, $23 at amazon.com