penne baked with leeks and mushrooms
Updated: Wed, 16 December, 2020
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Leeks, mushrooms, pasta and three cheeses - my favourite pasta bake is penne with leeks and mushrooms.
Pasta al forno! Mamma mia!
There is only one dish that’s nicer than pasta and that is pasta al forno. Lasagne is undoubtedly top of the range but it’s a bit of a chore.
You have to cook two sauces; decide whether you'll use pasta raw or pasta pre-cooked (raw! raw!); whether it's going to be beef ragu sauce or a vegetarian lasagne (beef! beef!); go an extra mile and cook béchamel or cut corners with a cheese sauce (hmmm… either!).
And then there's assembling and making sure it doesn’t overflow and overboil out of the dish. And cutting it neatly into portions instead of, as your gut instinct dictates, ramming a spoon into the middle and eating it straight out of the pan. What an effort. Still, it's totally worth it about once every three years.
Easy-peasy pasta bake
But you can have a pasta bake the easy way and this is what I’m suggesting with this recipe. Basically, you cook the pasta as if you wanted it fresh (pastasciutta to Italians), but then scoop it into a gratin dish, throw in some extra cheese and stick it in the oven.
Anything goes in the mix, perhaps carbonara might be an exception, but that’s only because the raw egg yolk that goes in it would become a bit pointless. Still, I have made a carbonara bake, without the egg which is good news for the raw egg-phobics.
The ultimate comfort food
Can you resist a cheesy and crispy, fragrant and warming, creamy and saucy plate of pasta bake on a wintry night or a rainy afternoon? Of course not but come to think of it, it's just as appealing on a summer day - is it not?
Admittedly, a pasta bake is naughtier than fresh pasta because it has 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 so, so good.
Varieties of pasta bake
The varieties are many: spinach will go into the oven with pasta nicely, so will spinach and cooked chicken making it pasta fiorentina bake, of sorts. Mushrooms are fantastic – but then in my view mushrooms are FANTASTIC, full stop, so I'm biased. Peppers, aubergines and courgettes will make a colourful bake. And let’s not forget good old mac ’n’ cheese.
Cheeses in the leek and mushroom penne bake
There are three cheeses in the dish in fact: mascarpone mixed into the sauce, Parmesan sprinkled on top and mozzarella in the body of the pasta. If you're lucky to get some asiago, taleggio or fontina, the experience will get even better. Those are gorgeous Italian cheeses but unfortunately not as commonly available to buy in the UK.
penne baked with leeks and mushroomsServings: 2Time: about 1 hour
- 180g (2 cups) dried penne pasta
- 2 medium leeks, trimmed and sliced
- salt and pepper
- 100g (1 cup) mushrooms, sliced
- a small bunch of dill, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 2 large cloves of garlic
- 50g (2 tbsp.) mascarpone or double cream
- 150g (1 cup) cooking mozzarella cheese
- 2 tbsp.grated Parmesan
1. Put a large pan of water with plenty of salt on to boil the pasta.
2. 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. Add 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.
3. In the meantime boil the pasta for 2 minutes shorter than the instructions on the packet – it will be cooking further in the oven.
4. Drain the pasta or scoop it out with a slotted spoon straight into the leek and mushroom mix. Toss well together and transfer into an ovenproof dish, about 20x20cm or similar.
5. Dice half the mozzarella and slice the other half. Tuck the diced cheese into the pasta and top with the slices. Sprinkle with half the Parmesan. At this stage it can stand around for a while, even overnight in the fridge, so it can easily be prepared in advance.
6. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Bake the pasta for about 40 minutes until crispy, brown and bubbling all over.
7. 10 minutes before the end of baking time sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan or reserve it to add straight onto the plates.