Pasta Al Forno falls into the category of comfort food.  Another simple yet yummy dish.  It is also a good leftover since it warms over well in the oven.    Once again, there are many versions of Pasta Al Forno.  This is our light version.  I sometimes make it with a ragu which is heartier. 

Get the best ingredients possible.  I recommend organic tomatoes with low sodium.  Some canned tomatoes can have a surprising amount of sodium in them.  We’re lucky that Luca’s mother, Dora, canned a bunch of tomatoes last summer.    She and Luca’s sister, Francesca, spent three days canning tomatoes.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), I wasn’t able to help since we were away on vacation.    Apparently, a farmer generally comes and gives her the canning tomatoes.   (The south of Italy is where the canned tomatoes in your supermarket come from.)      Dora and Francesca can the tomatoes outside because canning tomatoes in August is **bleeping** hot.  I can attest to this from my days of canning in our little kitchen in Connecticut.   It’s like a steamroom.  Needless to say, we appreciate their efforts every time we open a lovely glass jar of tomatoes.    

A little jar of sunshine

Ingredients:

I’m not very specific about the amounts.   Do it to your preference and size of your baking dish.  You really can’t mess this up. 

1 lb or less of ground meat

24 oz can of diced tomatoes

Mozzarella – We use a ball of  “scamorza” which is a drier, harder version of fresh mozzarella.  Do your best to substitute!

About a bag or box of Pasta – Recommend rigatoni or mezza rigatoni.  Yes, the type of pasta you use matters!

Piece of Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano – Don’t get pre-grated.  Freshly grated is better and improves muscle tone.

Directions:

1)      Boil your pasta half of the recommended time on the package with a 1-2 teaspoons of salt.    Drain and set aside

2)      Brown meat just until meat turns from red to brown.

Brown the meat

3)      Prepare your cheeses

           a)      Chop scamorza

           b)      Grate parmigiano

Prepare the cheese

4)      Prepare your tomato sauce

           a)      I simply cook it for a short time with a little salt, pepper and fresh basil if I have it. 

Prepare the sauce

5)      Combine pasta, ground meat, cheese

Mix the ingredients

6)      Put in baking dish

Put it in the baking dish

7)      Grate more parmigiano on top

8)      Cover with foil  and cook for 30 minutes at 375⁰F.  Remove foil and cook for 10 more minutes.

9)      Enjoy!

Pasta e Fagioli

 This simple yet delicious recipe is a staple in our house. There are many different variations of pasta e fagioli since it does mean pasta and beans. How generic can you get? My mom and I were talking about this dish when she visited in December. She was telling me how she prepares her pasta “fazool”. I wondered why it was called “fazool” in the U.S. I had never heard the word used in Italy. Later Luca told me that “fazool” is a dialect word in the south for beans (fagioli). Since most immigrants to Italy were from the south, it makes sense that the word went along with them and is now used by Americans. As with all Italian cooking, the quality of the ingredients is important. The quality of your beans will make a huge difference in the taste. I just don’t want to know if you use canned beans. They may be easy but they are usually chock full of sodium. I know, I know, rinsing helps. I just avoid cans and boxes whenever possible. Dried beans do take more time. However, they can be cooked a day or two ahead and stored in the refrigerator. In fact, it’s tastier that way. I also recommend buying beans in the bulk area of the supermarket or online at Rancho Gordo http://www.ranchogordo.com/. Their beans are delicious. Pancetta definitely makes this recipe tastier. I have also made it using a ham hock. So much for healthy but oh so yummy. After cooking, remove the ham hock, pick off the meat and throw it back in with the beans.

 The kids also like pasta e fagioli. Of course, they would swear up and down that they hate beans. I puree all of their beans into a creamy sauce….sneaky, sneaky.

 Ingredients:

  • 150 gr dried cannellini beans
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pasta of small-medium size like cavatelli or pasta mista
  • Optional: ½” thick slice of pancetta
  • Olive Oil

Directions:

1) Soak dried cannellini beans in cold water overnight. Water should be about 1 inch over the beans.

2) If using optional pancetta:

  1. Cut pancetta into small cubes
  2. In medium saucepan, add a tablespoon of olive oil and sauté pancetta for around 5 minutes

3) Drain beans

4) In medium saucepan, add fresh water, bay leaf and beans

5) Simmer gently until beans are cooked tender but not mushy

Beans simmering

  1. Time required will depend upon the beans, generally take 1-2 hours
  2. While simmering, check the water level. Keep it 1 inch above beans. Reserve this water for your stock.

6) Cook pasta al dente (generally 2-3 minutes less than box directions) with around a teaspoon of salt.

7) Combine drained pasta with beans and bean “stock”

  1. Optional: puree a portion of beans in a food processor to make a creamier sauce

Optional puree of beans

8)  Serve in bowls with a drizzle of olive oil and crusty bread

Finished dish

Note: Eating this 2 days in a row is not recommended. It may have undesirable consequences which may not bother you but could bother those around you. 🙂

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