A master chef shares his easy strategy for feeding unexpected guests.

I got my first taste of Italian cooking growing up in Queens, New York, during the Sixties and Seventies. My family lived in an apartment building, and each night the aromas of garlic and tomato sauce wafted down the hall from 4C, where an Italian mother and daughter made lasagna and other casseroles for their extended family. I remember these neighbors especially around the holidays when I prepare easy baked pastas for guests who drop by. Instead of labor-intensive lasagna, I adapt tossed pastas from my two Manhattan restaurants, Campagna and Fred's at Barneys New York. I simply stir cheese (or not) into the sauced pasta, spoon the pasta into a baking dish, sprinkle it with more cheese or bread crumbs and then slide it into the oven. The sauce and pasta can be made hours before you eat and then cooked when your friends--invited or not--arrive at your door.

Mark Strausman is the author of The Campagna Table (Morrow). His new restaurant, Chinghalle, opens in Manhattan next year.