Years ago there was a marinara sauce called Prego Pasta Bake. It was, essentially, dinner in a jar, requiring only two additional ingredients: pasta and shredded Mozzarella cheese. Before I unleashed the gourmet in me, my husband and I would make this quite often. It was one of the first things we cooked together (if you can call it cooking) and may well have started us on the culinary journey we’re on today.
When I first noticed this recipe for Rigatoni with Goat Cheese and Marinara, I didn’t make the correlation, but after pulling it from the oven I realized how much it reminded me of the pasta bake’s we made in college. Pasta, sauce, and cheese—a simple list of ingredients with plenty of satisfaction. But this version appeals to the more sophisticated palate we’ve developed over the years. Goat cheese gives tang and creaminess to the red béchamel-like sauce and the breadcrumbs, well, they usually make everything a little bit better, especially when they’re toasted.
MACARONI WITH GOAT CHEESE AND MARINARA
Recipe courtesy NY Times
By MARTHA ROSE SHULMAN
Your refrigerator is part of your pantry, and if you have Parmesan and goat cheese on hand you can make any number of dishes. This is a grown-up macaroni and cheese, with a creamy tomato sauce standing in for béchamel.
1 pound of small pasta, penne or macaroni
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 plump garlic cloves, minced
1 (28-ounce) can plus 1 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes in juice
1/8 teaspoon sugar
Salt to taste
A couple of fresh basil sprigs (optional)
1 teaspoon dried oregano, if not using basil
Freshly ground pepper to taste
4 ounces soft, mild goat cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1. Begin heating a large pot of water for the pasta. Meanwhile make the tomato sauce. Pulse the chopped tomatoes in a food processor fitted with the steel blade, or pass through the medium blade of a food mill before you begin. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat in a large, wide nonstick skillet or saucepan and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, for 30 seconds to a minute, until it begins to smell fragrant, and add the tomatoes and their juice, the sugar, salt, oregano if using or basil sprigs. Stir and turn up the heat. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, lower the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until thick and fragrant, 15 to 20 minutes, or longer if necessary. Remove the basil sprigs and wipe any sauce adhering to them back into the pan. Add freshly ground pepper, stir in the goat cheese and Parmesan and combine well. Taste and adjust seasonings.
2. Preheat the oven to 350ºF and oil a 2-quart baking dish or gratin with olive oil.
3. When the water for the pasta comes to a boil add a tablespoon of salt and cook the pasta for a minute or two less than the instructions on the package indicate. It should still be a little underdone as it will finish cooking in the oven. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Add the tomato-goat cheese sauce and stir together until the pasta is thoroughly coated. Transfer to the baking dish.
4. Toss the breadcrumbs with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle over the top of the macaroni. Bake in the preheated oven until the casserole is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are lightly browned, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
Advance preparation: You can make the tomato sauce up to 3 days ahead and keep it in the refrigerator. Reheat and stir in the cheese just before tossing with the pasta. The assembled macaroni will keep for several hours outside of the refrigerator, and can be covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days before baking.