Al Forno's Penne with Tomato, Cream, and Five Cheeses

By • April 13, 2012 • 40 Comments



Author Notes: You won't meet a speedier baked pasta, not one that's this good. The recipe as written is genius, but even more genius is the fact that the technique can be reapplied in countless ways. Al Forno is always cycling in seasonal variations: thinly sliced asparagus and lemon zest, radicchio and shiitake, pumpkin and pancetta (the last of which Merrill reverse engineered and posted on FOOD52 back in 2010 -- go save her recipe now to try next fall). You also don't need to go out and buy five different hunks of cheese. This technique can work with whatever forgotten ends you have lying in the cheese drawer. Adapted very slightly from Cucina Simpatica: Robust Trattoria Cooking by Johanne Killeen & George Germon (Harper Collins, 1991)Genius Recipes

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 cheese, (1 1/2 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup coarsely shredded (1 1/2 ounces) Fontina cheese
  • 1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, (1 1/2 ounces)
  • 2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 pound thinly sliced mozzarella cheese
  • 3/4 teaspoons 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
  1. Heat oven to 500 degrees F.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except the pasta and butter. Stir well to combine.
  4. Drop the pasta into the boiling water and parboil for 4 minutes. Drain in a colander and add to the ingredients in the mixing bowl, tossing to combine.
  5. Divide the pasta mixture among six to eight shallow ceramic gratin dishes (1 1/2 to 2 cups in capacity) or place in a shallow (1-inch) layer in larger baking dishes. Dot with the butter, and bake until bubbly and brown on top, 7 to 10 minutes.
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Tags: pasta

Comments (40) Questions (0)

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7 months ago strawberrygirl

This was ridiculously good. I used Parmesan instead of Romano and had to bake it for more like 15-20 minutes to get it bubbly and browned, but otherwise followed the recipe as written. It would easily serve 6 as a main course, with a salad. I might try some of the suggestions to lighten it up a bit next time, but it's so good as is that I'm perfectly happy to take the calorie hit as an occasional treat.

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8 months ago booglix

Anyone have experience putting it together (including parboiling the pasta), taking it to someone's else's house, and baking it there? Does the pasta absorb a lot of liquid during transit?

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8 months ago booglix

I tried this recipe years ago - Ina Garten offers the exact same one ("Penne with Five Cheeses"), though the Al Forno cookbook was published long before hers. I never have been able to understand the copyright rules for cookbooks!

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8 months ago marlane c moffett

Ina, George and Joanne, owners of Al Forno are friends. Ina does credit them in her book.

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8 months ago Sherry

I can't wait to try this with Trader Joes roasted pepper as a substitute for tomatoes! My son is sensitive to tomatoes so this is my go to sauce. thanks!

Linda_and_lisa

8 months ago Double Helping

I made this today with whole wheat penne. I just parboiled the pasta for a 5 minutes longer since it was whole wheat. It was great, but I live in Providence and I think I would rather eat their pasta than make my own! For some reason, it tastes better in their restaurant!

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8 months ago sweet fang

I love to read the comments on how many ways to twist it up. I did my own twisting starting with Gluten free pasta. I had lots of shredded Trader Joe's cheese combo's so in they went. The really delicious twist was a Trader Joe's Red Pepper, eggplant and garlic spread that I tossed about 1\2 a cup of in. Also used yogurt instead of Ricotta and skipped the butter in exchange for shredded cheddar on top. I also made gluten free tiny croutons for the topping along with the shredded cheddar blend. Thank you for all the insights and of course for the original recipe. Amazing outcome. :)

Stringio

8 months ago Beata Sadowska

500 degrees? celcius?don't think that normal owen can make this temp?

7k4kyeyx

8 months ago Katherine

500 Degrees Fahrenheit. =) Americans typically uses Fahrenheit to measure temperature, including ovens temps.

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8 months ago AE

I often make this but use less heavy cream than called for and it's just fine. Typically I will add more tomato sauce as I can tomatoes. Also, I don't make this in individual gratin dishes but a large Le Creuset pot. And I cook the pasta a bit longer than the 4 minute parboil indicated; that never seems sufficient to me. Still, it's a superb dish.

Stringio

10 months ago NatWhit

This recipe is completely amazing. My parents bought this cookbook 20 years ago, and it's a family favorite. This is definitely the most requested recipe!

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11 months ago LLStone

I also threw in some goat cheese that I had in the fridge, and used low-fat cottage cheese, and buttermilk. I added cayenne, and topped it w/ some panko. It was a great dish, with a big salad on the side.

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11 months ago BellaRasa

I made this last night for a neighborhood potluck and it was a big hit. As if 5 cheeses was not enough, I had a little goat cheese in the fridge and threw that in as well. The only other change, I added some red pepper flakes. Great recipe!

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about 1 year ago sdschorr

I agree on following the recipe exactly (something I NEVER do)--it's completely flawless, and the gorgonzola just adds depth, no distinct flavor. My non-professional oven never truly reaches 500, so a more realistic baking time for us common folk is about 20 minutes--you want it to be brown and bubbling on top. For those of you who hate messing with last minute prep when you have company over, this largely can be prepared ahead. I put together all the ingredients (EXCEPT the fresh basil and pasta) in a sealed container and refrigerate, about 3 hours before dinner. While par-boiling the pasta, chop the fresh basil. When pasta is ready (again, follow the instructions, 3-4 minutes is plenty), mix it all together and immediately put in oven. This is one of those dishes that's best when you serve within 5 minutes of pulling it out of the oven, so consider that in your timing.

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over 1 year ago KtMcB

I followed the recipe exactly (very unusual for me!) as I was bringing it to a small dinner party. I prepared it at home and put it in friends oven for 10 min and was a big hit. parboiling pasta for 4 min then baking for 10 was just right.

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over 1 year ago java&foam

Everyone at my house swore up and down this was the best mac and cheese type dish they have ever eaten. People kept going in for more long after they said they were full! The blue cheese mellows and adds wonderful depth...even picky kids will love it.

Junechamp

over 1 year ago ChefJune

June is a trusted source on General Cooking.

I have had that book for years. Why haven't I made this before? Silly me!

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almost 2 years ago cutthecarrot

I made this original way and was enchanted. The second time, I used half and half instead of cream, whole wheat rotini, and a jar of red pepper spread/relish (from Trader Joe's) instead of the tomatoes. It worked so well! It is nice to know it can be lightened and a little whole grain action can be added with delicious and consistent results.

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about 2 years ago dmass

Wow! Delicious! I can't find the right words to describe how tasty this was.

The only changes I made was I used fresh tomatoes from the garden and I didn't quite have 1/4 lb of mozzarella. I did cook mine a little longer than what was noted in the recipe. I can't wait to make it again!

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about 2 years ago MsJoanie

I must have mis-judged my cheese quantities because I found this a little soupy, so I think I'll back off on the cream next time... I also used fresh tomatoes because I've got lots from the garden right now. Ran one large brandywine through the food mill to get puree and finely chopped another. Also added chunks of natural, uncured deli ham, which totally rocked! Should have added some garlic, but I'll remember that next time. I don't know how they think this only feeds four people. I baked this in a 9x13 casserole and it could easily feed 8-10 people with a salad. Mine also took more than 25 minutes to cook, but again, I think I must have misjudged the amount of cheese.

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about 2 years ago IRONWOOD CHEF

There have been a number of comments referring to the "unhealthy" aspect of this dish. While the 5 cheeses may mean that it will always be rather "calorie dense", I have lightened it considerably in each of two versions: (1) I ditched the butter, used part-skim mozzarella for one of the cheeses, and substituted 1 cup 2% evaporated milk and 1 cup 2% milk plus a beaten egg for the heavy cream; (2) same as above, but substituted 1 cup no-fat "cream" (which we are now able to buy here) and 1 cup 0% Greek yogurt for the heavy cream. Both were good, but the second was better.

Chopsticks

about 2 years ago tylermmcdon

This was extremely heavy but of course delicious. I substituted Gruyere for fontina. Yum!