Oozing, bubbling baked pasta with a golden crust, ‘pasta al forno’ in Italian, has been served since the Middle Ages. A genius recipe by the owners of the Al Forno restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island, the sauce is easy to prepare in advance and parboiling the pasta may also be done ahead of time, making this a two-minute assembly, meatless recipe for busy weeknights that adults and children alike eat voraciously. It is also a recipe that adapts well—for those insisting that a meal is not a meal without meat, add pieces of cooked sweet or hot Italian sausage to the pasta before combining with sauce and baking. During cold winter months, this is a hearty, satisfying plate that needs nothing more than a simple green salad to make the meal just right.
Ingredients4 red bell peppers, charred and peeled 1/2 cup chopped canned tomatoes in heavy puree 2 cups heavy cream 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese 1/2 cup coarsely shredded fontina 2 tablespoons ricotta 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt 1 pound imported penne or conchiglie rigate or any sturdy, short pasta 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees F.
- Bring 5 quarts of salted water to a boil in a stockpot.
- Halve the peppers, remove the seeds, and puree them in a blender. You should have about 1 cup of puree.
- In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except pasta shells and butter.
- Parboil the pasta for 4 minutes. Drain and add to the ingredients in the bowl, tossing to combine.
- Divide the pasta mixture among 4 individual, shallow gratin dishes. Dot with butter and bake until bubbly and brown on top, about 10 to 12 minutes.
To char and peel red peppers, turn on gas flame (indoors or out) and put peppers directly on the grate. Turn until blackened and blistered and charred all over. Transfer to a brown paper bag, fold opening over, and let sit 10 minutes until easy to handle (or put in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap). Peel and seed. Alternatively, use jarred peppers. For a crispier crust, turn on the broiler for the last 1 to 2 minutes of cooking.