There is something so comforting and satisfying about a baked pasta recipe. Pasta al forno reminds us of home and enjoying this Italian family tradition on a weekly basis. So try this easy baked penne recipe today and start your own family tradition.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven (or a deep sauce pan) over medium heat. Add the finely chopped onion and cook until soft, about 5 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 and sides of the pot and add the San Marzano crushed tomatoes. Stir to incorporate. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Some people like to add chopped fresh basil or fresh parsley at the very end, this is optional.
Put the milk in a small pot and bring to a simmer.
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.
Many Italians add a dash of ground nutmeg to their white sauce, so you can add a pinch at the very end and stir in well.
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 let the pasta cook for about 5 minutes, then drain in a colander. Note: It will not be completely cooked, as it will finish cooking in the oven.
Return the pasta to the pot and add the pasta sauce (both the tomato sauce and the white sauce). Mix until all the pasta is thoroughly coated.
Pour the pasta mixture into a greased 9 x 13-inch baking dish or casserole 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. Delicious!
If you love mozzarella cheese, you can add some shredded mozzarella cheese as a layer when you put it in the casserole dish as well as add the remaining mozzarella cheese on top and bake until the cheese is melted and browned. Another possibility is substituting the bechamel with mozzarella or ricotta cheese instead.