Who doesn’t like a steaming creamy mac ‘n cheese, coated in bechamel, rippling with cheese and crowned with crispy breadcrumbs? I would never throw shade at this comforting classic – and goodness knows we can all do with a little comfort these days – but I will say that you can have your baked pasta and cheese, and riff a little, too. What you get out of the deal is variety, an excuse to use up any lingering vegetables in your fridge, and an opportunity to add some extra goodies, like sausage if you’re so inclined. Simply mound them into a baking dish along with the al dente pasta and gads of cheese, bake until melty and golden, and no one, I dare say, will dream of objecting.
I make dishes like this when I am looking for a quick solution for an easy dinner. It can be on the table in about 30 minutes, and it’s likely to be devoured in half that time. It’s lighter than mac ‘n cheese, and loaded with veggies. To moisten the pasta (there’s no bechamel sauce, after all) I toss the pasta with some of the pasta cooking water and add fresh mozzarella for creaminess.
Baked Pasta with Sausage, Kale, and Roasted Tomatoes
12 ounces pasta, such as gemelli or farfalle
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces chorizo or hot Italian sausage, cut into 1/2 inch slices
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 bunch lacinato kale leaves, tough ribs discarded, leaves torn into bite-size pieces
1 (8-ounce) fresh mozzarella, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or part Parmesan)
1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add the pasta and cook until 1 to 2 minutes short of al dente. Scoop out 1/2 cup water, then drain the pasta. Transfer the pasta to a bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon oil to prevent sticking.
2. While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and brown the slices on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer the sausage to a plate lined with a paper towel and pour off all but 1 tablespoon oil from the skillet.
3. Add the tomatoes to the skillet and sauté until they release their juices and soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the kale and sauté until the leaves soften, about 3 minutes.
Add the pasta and 1/4 cup of the reserved water and stir to combine. If the pasta seems too dry, add the remaining water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the pasta is moist but not wet. Stir in the mozzarella and 1 cup Pecorino.
4. Sprinkle the remaining Pecorino over the top of the pasta and transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake until the top begins to color and the cheese melts, about 20 minutes. Serve warm.