Dreary winter weather getting you down?

Dodi Newman

On a grey winter day, comfort food with a bit of flair may be what you need to cheer you up. This baked pasta and cheese dish can be assembled hours ahead, and while it bakes just before dinner you can munch on appetizers and enjoy a glass of wine. A simple dish, its success depends on working with the freshest and best ingredients you can find. It turns into a gluten-free entrée if made with 100% corn pasta. Corn pasta, made in Italy, will cook al dente and not get soggy.

Penne baked with three cheeses

Serves 6

375 grams wheat or gluten-free penne
100 grams grated Gruyere cheese
100 grams grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, or more to taste
250 ml heavy cream
250 ml whole milk
375 grams ricotta
4 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon white pepper
scant 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons softened butter to grease the casserole

Preheat the oven to 375ºF

Cook the pasta al dente according to the package instructions. Drain and reserve.

Meanwhile, grate the Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses, combine and reserve.

Sauté the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until wilted, add the garlic and parsley, and cook for another minute. Remove from burner and reserve.

In a large bowl, thoroughly mix together the cream, milk, ricotta, eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and the onion/garlic/parsley mixture. Add the cooked pasta and stir thoroughly.

With a pastry brush, grease a 2 1/2 quart, round casserole. Place the pasta mixture in the casserole and smooth the top. Evenly sprinkle the grated Gruyere and Parmesan mixture on top. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until the top has formed a slight dome and is a rich brown colour.

Serve with Marcella Hazan’s tomato-butter-onion sauce and a tossed salad or sautéed spinach.


Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce with onion and butter

Makes two cups

There are many versions of this sauce available on the internet. The text varies, but the ingredients and the cooking method are always the same. This version uses less salt than the original recipe.

900 grams fresh, ripe tomatoes (Roma type), peeled and cut into coarse pieces
can (796 ml ) whole imported Italian tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
5 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half lengthwise
3/4 teaspoon salt

Put either the prepared fresh or canned tomatoes in a saucepan, add the butter, onion, and salt, and cook, uncovered, at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until the sauce is reduced to 2 cups and the butter has separated from the tomatoes.

Stir from time to time and mash up any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon.

When the sauce is done, remove the onion and discard. Correct the seasoning and serve.