Chef Rosario’s Holiday Pasta Casserole
Sono arrivate le feste!
The holiday season is here! Is there a better way to celebrate than sitting at the dinner table with your loved ones sharing a great pasta meal? There is something so festive about pasta casseroles—they’re heartwarming and delicious, they look great, and they reheat perfectly. When we have holiday meals, my wife and sons keep returning to the pasta casserole dish to sneak little tastes of pasta, a couple of penne, say, or a skinny rectangle of lasagne clinging to the side.
But what exactly is everyone’s favorite pasta? There is no easy answer to this question: to find the right answer we must look inside our most cherished memories. Searching for such memories is an appealing adventure. I have spoken in previous posts of my mother’s lasagne and of the pasta al forno I used to make for my family when my kids were little, so this year I will ring in the season with a pasta casserole that features a topping of roasted butternut squash and crispy Parmigiano Reggiano. I hope it will inspire your holiday dinners as well.
NOTE: Feel free to use any kind of pasta, including fusilli, penne, rigatoni, mezze maniche and even spaghetti!
PASTA AL FORNO WITH GOLDEN BUTTERNUT SQUASH
Serves 4–6 people
- 4 Cups whole milk
- ½ Stick butter (4 Tablespoons)
- ½ Cup all-purpose flour
- 1 Heaping cup of shredded Gruyère cheese
- ¾ Cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Salt for pasta water to taste
- 12 oz good quality dry pasta (any kind!)
- ¾ Cup pasta water
- 1 Small butternut squash (about 1 lb.)
- 2 Tbsp Olive oil
- A few leaves of fresh sage, roughly chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste for squash and bechamel
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil for the pasta.
- Peel, remove seeds, and ½” dice a small butternut squash to obtain about two cups of diced squash. Toss diced squash in a bowl with 2 Tbsp of olive oil and the chopped sage. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
- For the béchamel, scald the milk over medium heat and keep hot until ready to use (be careful not to boil).
- In a separate pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the flour, whisking until it has all been absorbed by the butter, to obtain a golden roux. Cook the roux for a few minutes until fragrant, but do not let it darken. Add the milk in two or three installments, whisking vigorously to obtain a smooth and silky sauce. Be careful not to let the sauce form lumps! Cook over low heat for 10 minutes, continuing to whisk. Make sure it doesn’t burn. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Once the pasta water has come to a rapid boil, add salt, and then the pasta.
- Cook according to package directions minus two minutes (the pasta will be finished in the oven, and you do not want it to overcook).
- Before draining the pasta, reserve ¾ cup of the pasta water to add to the béchamel; the residual starch in the water will add creaminess to the sauce.
- Drain the pasta before it is fully cooked, as indicated above, and return it to the pot (no need to chill it).
- Add the reserved pasta water to the béchamel and mix thoroughly. Fold in the cheeses, reserving about ¼ cup of Parmigiano and mix to incorporate evenly.
- Pour the warm béchamel over the cooked pasta. Mix gently but thoroughly and transfer to a medium-size baking dish. Pasta should be JUST BELOW the top of the dish. Smooth out the top. Cover the pasta with the seasoned diced squash in a single layer and place on the middle rack of the pre-heated oven for approximately 30 minutes or until the sauce starts to bubble and the squash is tender and golden.
- Remove from oven and sprinkle the remaining Parmigiano evenly on top. Place back in the oven for a few more minutes to lightly brown the top.
- Carefully remove from oven and get ready to welcome a new family favorite!!