When the weather is cool, baked pasta and a salad is a favorite go to dinner. I like the fact that the dish can be assembled ahead of time and baked before dinner. In this casserole, all the items are individually cooked to impart the most flavor without being humdrum.
Broccoli Rabe adds a nice spicy pungent flavor and the cremini mushrooms are meaty in every bite. I used short cut rigatoni or mezzi rigatoni which is half the size of the regular rigatoni and lends itself to the sauce going inside the tubes and makes the pasta moist. I add freshly grated parmesan for the salt and cheesy flavor to permeate the entire dish and stud it finally with cubes of fresh mozzarella which after baking becomes this super gooey delight. The second picture below shows how goeey and stringy fresh mozzarella gets when melted - almost looks like noodles.
|Baked Rigatoni with Broccoli Rabe and Mushrooms|
4 cups mezzi rigatoni
1 bunch broccoli rabe
10 oz mushrooms - I used cremini, but regular button or a mixed mushroom medley would work
2 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 cups tomato sauce, home made or store bought (I used Rao's marinara sauce)
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup fresh salted mozzarella, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Clean the mushrooms with a damp paper towel and slice them into ¼ inch slices. The slices should not be too thin otherwise; they will not live up to their meaty bite.
- Heat a large heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium high heat with extra virgin olive oil. Add the chili flakes and minced garlic and sauté for 30 seconds to a minute ensuring that the garlic does not burn. Add the sliced mushrooms in as much of a single layer as possible to brown them. Let it cook over medium high heat for a couple of minutes, till one side is golden brown; then toss them to brown the other side. Just before the mushrooms are ready to be taken out, add the ½ teaspoon salt. The last minute addition of salt, ensures that the mushrooms do not become watery and have a nice golden crust. Remove from pan and add to the casserole dish. You will require a 13x9 inch glass or porcelain dish.
- In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Trim the ends off the broccoli rabe and dunk them into the boiling water. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes till the broccoli rabe has wilted but still retains its vibrant green color. Remove from the water with tongs and drain in a colander. Once the water has drained, chop the rabe coarsely and add it to the casserole dish along with the mushrooms.
- Bring the water back to a boil and add the pasta. Cook a couple of minutes shy of the cooking time mentioned on the box. The pasta will continue to cook in the oven while baking. Drain the pasta and add it to the casserole. Pour the 2 ½ cups of tomato sauce and mix it into the pasta, mushroom and broccoli rabe making sure that the vegetables are evenly spread out.
- Now sprinkle the parmesan cheese and lightly mix into the dish. Finally arrange the mozzarella cubes all over the casserole dish, ensuring once again that it is evenly spread out so that everyone gets a fair share of the cheese. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and place it in the middle rack of a preheated oven for 45 minutes to an hour, till the sauce it absorbed by the pasta. Remove from the oven and let it sit for about 10 minutes before serving.
Serves 4 with a salad