penne baked with leeks and mushrooms
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There is only one dish that’s nicer than pasta and that is pasta al forno. Lasagne is clearly the tops – but it’s a bit of a chore, cooking two sauces, pasta raw or pasta pre-cooked (raw! raw!), beef sauce or vegetarian (beef! beef!), béchamel or cheese sauce (hmmm… either!) and then assembling and making sure it doesn’t boil out of the dish. And cutting it neatly into portions. Effort. Still, worth it.
But you can have a pasta bake the easy way and this is what I’m suggesting here. Basically cook the pasta as if you wanted it fresh, but then let it hang about for a bit, throw in some extra cheese and stick it in the oven. Anything will go – perhaps carbonara is an exception, but that’s only because that raw egg yolk that goes in it would become a bit pointless.
Pasta bake is naughtier than fresh pasta – more cheese. It also gets deliciously crispy in the oven which I’m not sure is entirely in line with Italian cuisine but makes it damn good.
The varieties are many – spinach will do nicely, so will spinach and cooked chicken (fiorentina, sort of). Mushrooms are fantastic – but then I think mushrooms are FANTASTIC, full stop. Peppers, aubergines and courgettes will make a colourful bake. And let’s not forget good old mac’n’cheese…
Asiago is a lovely Italian cheese and excellent in pasta bakes when not too mature – sadly I couldn’t get hold of it this time so made do with mozzarella.
- 80-90g penne pasta per person
- 2 medium leeks, sliced
- salt and pepper
- 100g mushrooms, sliced (I used oysters, roughly torn)
- a small bunch of dill, chopped
- a knob of butter
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- 50g mascarpone or double cream
- 150g asiago or cooking mozzarella cheese
- a handful of grated parmesan
Put a large pan of water with plenty of salt on to boil the pasta. In another large pan or skillet melt the butter and add the leeks. Season with salt and pepper and cook on medium-high heat until they start to caramelise. Throw in the mushrooms, dill, pressed garlic and cook covered for about 5 minutes until the mushrooms have wilted. Add the mascarpone or cream, mix well and cook on low heat for another 5-10 minutes. In the meantime boil the pasta for a minute or two shorter than the instructions on the packet – it will be cooking further in the oven.
Drain the pasta or fish it out with a slotted spoon straight into the leek and mushroom mix. Toss well together and put into an ovenproof dish (I like to use quite a shallow dish so that it gets crispy all over).
Dice half the mozzarella or asiago and slice the other half. Tuck the diced cheese into the pasta and cover with the slices. Sprinkle with half the parmesan. At this stage it can hang around for a while, even overnight in the fridge, all the better for it I’d say so it can easily be prepared in advance.
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Bake the pasta for about 40 minutes until crispy, brown and bubbling all over. 10 minutes before the end of baking time sprinkle with the rest of the parmesan – or reserve it to add straight onto the plates.