How to make oven-baked pasta: a taste of Italian tradition

You’ve all heard of oven-baked pasta, a staple of family Sundays and special occasions like Easter lunch or Christmas Eve! These unique first courses are simple yet satisfying. It’s safe to say that oven-baked pasta is one of the most popular dishes in Italian cuisine.

Gratinating is a cooking method that creates a golden, crispy crust on the surface. To achieve this, grated Parmigiano Reggiano, breadcrumbs, and butter are used, and the dish is baked in the oven.

At the end of cooking, the oven is switched to grill mode, which encourages the formation of a crispy crust. Underneath, the pasta remains creamy and stringy thanks to the use of béchamel sauce or cream.

Admit it: it’s delicious even cold and you’re already mouthwatering!

In fact, the pasta recipes we’ll provide you with require a careful shopping list, or rather a packet of pasta, either short or long (you decide), minced meat or, for a lighter version, vegetables

So, if you still don’t know how to gratinate pasta, here are the secrets to perfect gratinating and some easy and quick recipes to prepare.

How to Gratinate

Gratinating is the process of creating a golden, crispy crust on your dishes to make them even more delicious and appetizing. This crust typically forms after cooking in the oven at high temperatures, exceeding 180°C (350°F). In this very hot environment, the Maillard reaction takes place, named after the French chemist who studied the phenomenon. This reaction is an interaction between proteins and carbohydrates that, under certain conditions, primarily high temperatures, creates the gratin crust on food.

All dishes can be gratinated: appetizers, such as salmon strudel with vegetables, first courses, such as baked pasta with pumpkin, main courses, such as gratinated shrimp, and side dishes, such as gratinated vegetables.

Here are some general tips for gratinating:

  • Use a high-fat ingredient. This will help to create a crispy crust. Some good options include butter, cheese, and cream.
  • Preheat your oven to a high temperature. This will ensure that the crust forms quickly and evenly.
  • Spread the gratinating ingredient evenly over the top of the dish. This will ensure that the crust is uniform.
  • Broil or grill the dish for a few minutes at the end of cooking. This will help to brown the crust and make it extra crispy.
  • Here are some additional tips for gratinating different types of dishes:

For appetizers: Use a light gratinating ingredient, such as breadcrumbs or grated cheese.
For first courses: Use a heavier gratinating ingredient, such as béchamel sauce or cheese.
For main courses: Use a combination of gratinating ingredients, such as butter, cheese, and breadcrumbs.
For side dishes: Use a simple gratinating ingredient, such as grated cheese or breadcrumbs.
With a little practice, you’ll be gratinating like a pro in no time!

How to Gratinate Pasta with Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are one of the ingredients commonly used to gratinate baked pasta dishes. The crunchiness that they release once baked in the oven creates that special crust that makes your dishes even tastier.
Breadcrumbs generally go hand in hand with Parmigiano Reggiano: together they can create a remarkable, crispy, and just the right amount of gooey shell. For an even better result, add a few knobs of butter. The fat that it releases binds harmoniously with the crunchy breadcrumbs and the gooey Parmigiano Reggiano, forming a perfect crust.

Among the most delicious pasta dishes, try making pasta al forno with sausage and breadcrumbs. It is a rich and flavorful first course with a simple and quick recipe. A way to bring so much taste and simplicity to the table, delighting guests and family.

Finally, instead of putting the baking dish in the oven, you could also create mini portions of pasta. Put the breadcrumbs in the bottom of the chosen ramekin so that when the pasta is cooked, it will be easier to turn it over onto the serving plate.

How to gratinate leftover pasta

Gratinating leftover pasta is an easy and quick process that requires very few precautions. If the previous night’s dinner left you with some pasta, the ideal thing is to gratinate it to reinvigorate its flavor and enhance its already excellent characteristics.

If you have leftover pasta that is already seasoned, whatever the seasoning, vegetables, ragù, pesto, fish, you can put it in a bowl, add the Bechamel sauce, some cheese if you like, such as mozzarella or Taleggio, put everything in a baking dish, sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano and, if you wish, breadcrumbs, a few knobs of butter or a drizzle of oil and put it in the oven preheated to 180° for about half an hour.

After 25 minutes, activate the grill function of the oven, 5 minutes later your gratinated pasta is ready, the crust required for gratinating has formed and you are ready to bring it to the table.

If instead you have leftover plain pasta, or if you have many small quantities of pasta in your pantry that don’t even make a portion on their own, don’t throw them away. Recycling pasta is not only a good rule, but also a fantastic exercise for your creativity. All you have to do is combine short pasta with long pasta, paying attention to the cooking time.

In fact, if you use different types of pasta, boil them in plenty of salted water, adding them in batches according to their cooking time. Once the pasta is ready, it’s time to add some cold ingredients before putting it in the oven.

In a baking dish, put the pasta, some tomato sauce, Bechamel Classic Chef and a few cubes of mozzarella, and mix everything together. If the tomato sauce you are using is not seasoned, add salt and, if it is too acidic, a pinch of sugar. Now arrange the mixture evenly along the baking dish and then sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano and breadcrumbs and bake for about twenty minutes.

Another variation is to use frozen peas, diced smoked bacon and scamorza cheese: the delicate taste is guaranteed!

As already mentioned several times, use the grill function for the last 5 minutes of cooking your gratinated pasta: the crust that will form will be even crispier and more delicious.

How to gratinate pasta with zucchini

Gratinating pasta with cream and zucchini is simple and quick: the result is exceptional and will satisfy the palates of both young and old.

First of all, put a pot of water on to boil to cook the pasta you have chosen for the preparation of the dish. To dress the pasta, you can choose two main ways: to do it raw or with a sauce sautéed in a pan.

If you have little time available or if you prefer fresher flavors, wash the zucchini and cut them into strips with the help of a coarse grater. If you want, you can add cubes of cooked ham to give your dish even more flavor.

Drain the pasta and mix it with the finely chopped raw zucchini and add the Bechamel sauce or cream.

The creaminess of the cream and its unmistakable taste will give your gratinated pasta with zucchini a distinct and delicious character.

At this point, put the dressed pasta in a baking dish, sprinkle with plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano and put it in the oven preheated to 200° for a quarter of an hour. Take it out: nice and golden on the surface, good and gooey inside, your dish is ready to be served.

If instead you prefer to sauté your zucchini, all you have to do is sauté them in a pan with a drizzle of oil and a clove of garlic before adding them to the pasta.