Al Forno’s Penne with Tomato Sauce, Cream and Five Cheeses

You can, of course, make this ridiculously simple entree without goat cheese…but would you want to? It’s perfect for that collection of cheese leftovers that hang around so many of our fridges. So easy you won’t believe it. Genius, in fact! Thank you to Food52!

Al Forno’s Penne with Tomato, Cream & Five Cheeses

Adapted very slightly from Cucina Simpatica: Robust Trattoria Cooking by Johanne Killeen & George Germon (Harper Collins, 1991)

Serves 4, or 6 to 8 as an appetizer

2 cups heavy cream
1 cup chopped canned tomatoes in heavy puree
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano (or aged hard goat) cheese (1 1/2 ounces)
1/2 cup coarsely shredded Fontina (or young goat Gouda) cheese (1 1/2 ounces)
1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese (1 1/2 ounces)
2 tablespoons fresh goat cheese
1/4 pound thinly sliced fresh mozzarella cheese
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for pasta water
6 fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1 pound penne rigate or conchiglie rigate
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, sliced thinly

Instructions

You won’t meet a speedier baked pasta, not one this good.

The recipe comes from a couple of former artists who, on the eve of opening their first restaurant in 1980, felt inspired to add baked pasta to their menu after seeing one in a smoky photo in an old Gourmet magazine.

It’s time to get acquainted with oven-baked pasta, because once you know about it, you’ll never shy away from inviting company for dinner; never wonder what to make to cheer someone up; never go out seeking solace in shoddy takeout, when comfort is right in your pantry (and cheese drawer).

 

Here’s how it comes together: gather your cheeses; mix them into a slurry with canned tomatoes, basil, and a pint of cream in a big bowl. Boil a pound of pasta briefly (four minutes only), then drain and add that in too.

 

Portion the whole mess into whatever shallow baking vessels you have, scatter some butter shavings across the top, and roast in a 500 degree oven for oh, about 10 minutes.

 

The first time you make it, you won’t trust it. The sauce, at first, looks thin and sketchy. It seems your poor penne will be undercooked (it’s only boiled for 4 minutes out of an alleged 13). You will wonder if eating all that cream and cheese is wise, and why five different cheeses needed to get involved.

 

Don’t worry. During that brief time in the hot oven, the cream will bubble up to just barely finish cooking the pasta, travelling up the tubes and into the crevices, to be trapped until you pick up a forkful and hot cream spurts out under your teeth. Al Forno uses penne and conchiglie rigate interchangeably — both are good vehicles for cream delivery.

 

Meanwhile, the uppermost noodles poke up like periscopes. They’ll stay a little chewy and the tips will singe to a crisp. You wouldn’t want to eat a whole pan full of burnt pasta ends, but here they’re the most precious, sought-after bits.
All those cheeses you questioned melt into a rich but nuanced sauce — except for the slices of fresh mozzarella. They stay behind in little patches of molten goo that, once disturbed, leave behind stringy trails as you twirl them up. Full of surprises, this pasta.

You could swap tomato puree for the diced ones, but it’s nice to keep the cream barely tinted with tomato. And left whole, the bright clumps of tomato are points of relief that renew your hunger for more cream.

 

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