Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Pasta Baked with Bechamel and Parmigiano

I made this for a sick friend the other day (and kept some for us as well). It was posted in 2005 and that's too long ago, just for those who, like me, don't look through the archives often enough. So I'm reposting it below. This is simple, economical, and delicious. That's a too-rare combination. Give it a try.

Late in getting this up here but better late than never. I hadn't made this for years. It is one of those things that I just "forgot" to make but I'll remember from now on because everyone loved it. We had this for Ash Wednesday and the leftovers on Friday. This regional dish is perfect for those meatless Lenten Fridays or just as comfort food. It is a universal pleaser that makes a similar but nice change from the standard Macaroni and Cheese or Tuna Casserole.

This is from Trattoria Cooking by Biba Caggiano. I just love this book. Not only does Biba write in such an enthusiastic way about Italian food and trattorias, but the recipes generally are simple and they always work. The nutmeg may sound strange but don't skip it. My mother always put a pinch of nutmeg into a white sauce, which is what bechamel is, and it adds just a little something delicious.

For the bechamel sauce
3 cups milk
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter
5 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt

To complete the dish
1 pound rigatoni (I use whatever shape looks good or I have around)
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

To prepare the bechamel sauce, heat the milk in a small saucepan over low heat. (I do this in the microwave.) Melt the butter in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. When the butter foams, add the flour. Lower the heat to medium-low and stir the mixture with a wooden spoon. Cook and stir about 2 minutes, without letting the flour brown.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the milk all at once. Mix energetically to prevent lumps. Put the saucepan back over low heat, season with salt, and cook gently, mixing constantly, until the sauce has a medium-thick consistency, 3-5 minutes. If the sauce is too thick, stir in a bit more milk. If the sauce is too thin, cook it a little longer. Cover the pan and set aside until ready to use.

Preheat the oven to 375°. Butter a baking pan generously. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and the rigatoni. Cook, uncovered, over high heat until almost done.

Drain the pasta and place it in the baking dish. Season the bechamel with the nutmeg and mix to combine. Add the bechamel to the pasta and mix well. (I put everything back into the pot that the pasta cooked in and mix it there. This baking dish technique is pretty messy.) Sprinkle the pasta with the parmigiano and dot with the butter. Bake until cheese is melted and pasta has a nice golden color, 12-15 minutes. Serve hot. Makes 4-6 servings.

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