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

By • April 13, 2012 49 Comments

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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 teaspoon 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.

More Great Recipes: Ricotta|Appetizers|Entrees|Pasta|Basil

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Comments (49) Questions (0)


about 1 month ago Alleycat

Wow - 2 cups heavy cream, 2 cups cheese and 2 oz butter, just for 4 people? I'm sure it tastes good, but heart attack city, here we come!


about 1 month ago Tricia Sacks

I don't really like putting my oven that high...has anyone tried making this recipe in a 350 or 400 degree oven? If so, how did it turn out? How long did you cook it for?



5 months ago Alexis Stranberg

I really hated this. So heavy and goupy and bland. This liquids didn't cook all of the pasta so in was uneven.


5 months ago robin lewis

Can you give a few brand names/examples of 'chopped canned tomatoes in heavy puree'? I stand and stare at all of the types of cannes/jarred ton a ties and I only ever see 'tomato puree,' which is really pureed (ie doesn't have chunks or bits of skin)...


7 months ago keg72

I agree with just about everyone -- delicious! The one change I made ingredient-wise was to add the whole 14 oz can of diced tomatoes. I baked it in one 9x13 pan, and mine took about 12 minutes to bake. Finally, I did prepare mine in the morning and then refrigerated it - I took it out of the fridge about an hour before baking it.


8 months ago Loredona

Has anyone prepared this in the morning to serve for dinner? Can you do it in advance and just bake when company arrives?


7 months ago kim

the original recipe from Al Forno says you can! http://www.prepaheadanddinein... i prepared it last night and am baking it tonight. i hope it turns out even better since it's had time to sit and absorb all the flavors.


10 months ago Eden C

My alterations/substitutions for a lighter version: Organic spelt penne pasta, greek yogurt (instead of heavy cream), and extra basil. It came out just right! Next time, I may try to add some hand-chopped tomatoes (evened out with a few extra pinches of salt), pinches of cayenne pepper, and shredded chicken :)


11 months ago Babette

FIVE CHEESES?!?! Sounds too good to be true, right? This dish was out of this world amazing! You can also mix and match the cheeses, for instance: I used parmigiano reggiano instead of romano, for i think that romano can tend to be a little to bitter for me. But none the less this was BOMBSHELL, I totally recommend. http://babetteandbuttons...


over 1 year 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.


over 1 year 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?


over 1 year 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!


over 1 year ago marlane c moffett

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


over 1 year 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!


over 1 year 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!


over 1 year 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. :)


over 1 year ago Beata Sadowska

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


over 1 year ago Katherine

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


over 1 year 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.


almost 2 years 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!


almost 2 years 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.


almost 2 years 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!


about 2 years 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.