Things a good baked pasta should involve:
You can amp up your baked pasta with all sorts of bits and bobs, tossing in whatever you have on hand to add flavor and flair. All you need is a little direction and maybe a recipe template to get you going—and luckily, we're here to help, especially on a busy weeknight. Read on for a sneak peek of our newest fill-in-the-blank recipe game (it's out today!), Cook in the Blank. You'll find a recipe for the ultimate permission-to-go-rogue pasta bake to whip up at a moment's notice. Snuggle up, y'all, it's casserole season.
To get going, just use this magic formula:
First, grease a big baking dish and heat your oven to 400°F.
Then pick your pasta—any kind that speaks to you. Tube-y or cavernous shapes like cavatelli, macaroni, rigatoni, conchiglie, and fusilli work best because they can really hold onto sauce. (And a max cheese-to-noodle ratio is always preferable, in my book). Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package, minus a minute or two—it'll finish cooking in the oven. Drain it well and set it aside for now.
Speaking of cheese, that's what you'll want to decide on as the pasta cooks: Anything creamy and melty, with a nutty and not-too-strong flavor. Maybe some cheddar, mozzarella, Gruyère, fontina, Manchego, or whatever else suits your fancy. Grate a few cups into a big bowl.
Next, mix in a couple splashes of dairy with the cheese. Go for whole milk, half-and-half, or heavy cream if you're feeling a little luxurious.
Add in a couple seasonings (Dijon mustard, paprika, cayenne, hot sauce, or dried oregano will all do the trick), and a few crumbles of a funkier cheese (blue cheese, goat cheese, or robiola are solid choices).
Some ribbons of chopped greens might be what you're feeling next, and kale, spinach, or mustard or collard greens won't do you wrong. You're also free to sneak in some added oohs & aahs, like sautéed mushrooms, caramelized onions, pulled pork, or crumbled bacon.
Now, it's time to add in your pasta. Fold it in so it's completely covered in your starting-to-get-irresistibly-melty sauce. Pour the contents of the bowl into that greased baking dish and get ready to make it rain...
...With something that'll get crunchy—like panko, pine nuts, cubed white or sourdough bread, or buttery bread crumbs of any sort. The thicker your crumb-blanket, the crispier it'll all get on the top.
And then, for the pièce de résistance, dot on something over the top to really take it there. If sliced prosciutto or diced pepperoni isn't quite the right vibe, maybe a drizzle of truffle oil or some flakes of smoked sea salt might be more your speed.
Stick the loaded pan in your hot oven and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, until the top's all golden-brown and bubbly, and your kitchen smells like melty cheese. Heap a bunch on your plate, let it cool for a hot second (if you can), and dinner is served.
Need some inspiration to get you started? Here are a few suggestions:
Or skip all the add-ins and stick to the basics. Beyond the pasta, cheese, and splash of dairy to help things get saucy, all you need is a fork.
What easy weeknight baked pasta will you bubble up with Cook in the Blank? It's out today, so grab it now and let us know in the comments!