As I was saying in yesterday’s post, Rich had a taste for baked penne, and as I was surfing around da Google, I kept coming back to the idea of baked penne with vodka sauce, which just so happens to be one of his favorite sauces, and not one I’d try to make for him yet.
Well, my whole mantra is “in for a penny, why the HECK not take a flying leap and make stuff up as I go along?”.
Lucky for me, it worked, and worked well.
•1 entire batch vodka sauce*
•2 cups (1/2 lb) penne pasta, cooked and drained
•1 cup bread crumbs
•4 or 5 fresh basil leaves
•1 tbsp olive oil
•1 tbsp shredded Parmesan
*This may seem like a lot of sauce for the amount of pasta, but much of it will soak into the penne as it bakes, so using this much sauce gaurantees you a nicely moist finished casserole.
Make the bread crumbs by tossing the basil leaves and about half a loaf of party bread (or another bread of your choice) into a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse until well and truly chopped. There may by some larger chunks of bread left on the mixture, but that’s fine.
Place one cup of the bread crumbs in a bowl, toss with a tablespoon each of olive oil and Parmesan cheese, and set aside. Transfer the remaining bread crumbs to a zipper bag and stash in the freezer until you need them.
Preheat oven to 400°.
Add the penne to boiling, salted water and cook for eight minutes (the pasta will cook more while in the oven, so don’t overdo it at this point).
Drain, rinse well with cold water, and arrange in the bottom of a shallow 2 to 2-1/2 quart gratin or baking dish.
Add the vodka sauce, shaking the pan a bit and giving a bit of a stir to really mix the sauce in with the pasta.
Top the pasta and sauce with enough shredded Mozzarella (I used a combination of Mozzarella and Provolone) to more or less cover the casserole, then sprinkle the basil bread crumb, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese mixture over the top.
Bake on the middle rack in the oven for 30 minutes, then remove and allow to rest for ten minutes before serving.
Trust me, there is NOTHING not to like about this casserole!
If you’re feeling a little fancy schmancy, you could try tossing the pasta in the vodka sauce, then placing it in individual ramekins before topping each with cheese and the bread crumb mixture – kinda like a pasta pot pie. Adjust your initial baking time down to 20 minutes, and then check to see how the cheese is melting and the topping browning on each before removing them from the oven and allowing to rest for ten minutes.
Either way you decide to go, serve with a bit of garlic bread, a nice tossed salad, and a glass or five of your favorite red wine.