There are many Italian baked pasta, or pasta al forno, recipes, the most common in the U.S. being lasagna and baked ziti. This particular dish is a bit reminiscent of baked ziti, though meatier and creamier.
Although this baked penne pasta recipe is traditionally considered a primo, it is hearty enough to stand as a meal on its own, perhaps accompanied by a green salad and some warm crusty bread.
You can also make this ahead of time and bake it upon arrival of your guests, or it can be frozen for when you need to put a hearty dinner on the table but don’t have the time. If you leave out the ragu, it is still delicious and will satisfy any of your vegetarian guests.
Baked Penne Pasta with Bechamel and Meat Sauce
There is something so comforting and satisfying about a baked pasta recipe. I guess it reminds me of home, when Nonna used to make it for the family almost weekly. I also used to order it at restaurants in Milan, but it originates from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy.
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft, about 12 minutes.
Add the meat and sauté, breaking it up with the back of a wooden spoon and stirring until browned, about 10 minutes.
Add the wine and stir until it evaporates completely. Scrape all the browned bits from the bottom of the pot and add the San Marzano tomatoes. Stir to incorporate. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.