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.
This particular dish is so easy to make and can feed a hungry crowd that will be so pleased once they bite into the baked penne pasta with the creamy bechamel and light meat ragu sauce.
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.
FOR THE RAGU
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.
FOR THE BESCIAMELLA SAUCE
In a large nonstick skillet, melt the butter over medium heat.
Stir in the flour and cook for 2 minutes.
Gradually add the simmering milk and whisk to combine.
Whisk continuously until the sauce is creamy and smooth, then turn off the heat and add the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Add salt and pepper to taste, then cover and set aside.
FOR THE PASTA
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
In a large pot, bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil.
Add the penne and cook for about 5 minutes, then drain in a colander. Note: It will not be completely cooked, as it will finish in the oven.
Return the pasta to the pot and add the besciamella and ragu sauces. Mix until all the pasta is thoroughly coated.
Pour the pasta into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish (or use parchment paper for easy cleanup) and bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until bubbling and golden.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the reserved Parmigiano-Reggiano. Let rest for 15 minutes before cutting and serving.
Calories: 790kcal | Carbohydrates: 72g | Protein: 30g | Fat: 40g | Saturated Fat: 17g | Cholesterol: 92mg | Sodium: 324mg | Potassium: 615mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 12g | Vitamin A: 690IU | Vitamin C: 1.3mg | Calcium: 388mg | Iron: 2.6mg