I’m part of a local moms group, and one of the things we do is bring a few dinners to the new mommies in the group during those crazy early weeks. I had volunteered to bring dinner over to a member today, so I set about making one of my favorite make-ahead meals during Nora’s afternoon nap — four cheese pasta with tomatoes and basil.
It’s not a hard meal to make, but it is a little labor-intensive on the front-end, what with shredding all the cheeses, preparing a roux to thicken the cream, making the breadcrumb topping, etc. What I love about casserole-type dishes, though, is that once they’re all prepared, you can generally just stick them in the fridge and bake them when you’re almost ready for dinner — no muss, no fuss. And most of the clean-up can be done before dinner is even on the table, so that’s a plus.
When I was finished making the pasta, and ready to put everything in the baking dish, I realized that I had way more than I needed to fill the disposable pan I had planned to deliver the meal in. Since the pan should hold more than enough for two people, with leftovers for lunch the next day, I was pleasantly surprised. Turns out I had just made dinner for our family, too!
Served with a quick side salad of arugula and vinaigrette, it was a great weeknight meal, and I enjoyed my extra free time this evening, since I didn’t have to cook again. Of course, that free time was mostly filled with catching up on laundry, but still…
Delivering the meal to our new mommy was such an experience. Her little girl is so tiny (as newborns tend to be) and precious, and she is going through so many of the same things I did when Nora was brand-new. It’s hard to even remember that time nowadays. I can’t believe our tiny little 5-pounder has grown into the spirited kiddo we have now. What a ride.
But, I digress. To the food!
Four Cheese Pasta with Tomatoes and Basil
Based on a recipe from Cover and Bake
1 pound penne*
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz fontina cheese, shredded (about 1 1/3 cups)
3 oz Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled (about 3/4 cup)
1 oz Pecorino Romano cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
1 oz Parmesan cheese, grated, divided (about 1/2 cup total)
3/4 lb tomatoes, chopped**
1/4 cup basil, chopped
4 slices sandwich bread, torn into quarters
2 Tbsp butter, melted
Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to pan; toss with olive oil. Meanwhile, heat the butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for a couple of minutes. Gradually stir in the cream and bring to a simmer. Simmer for a couple of minutes until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and add salt and pepper.
Mix the fontina, Gorgonzola, Pecornio Romano and half of the Parmesan in a large bowl. Add the warm pasta to the bowl, then pour the cream mixture over it, add the tomatoes and immediately cover the bowl with a large plate or foil. Let stand for 3 minutes. Remove cover and stir gently with a rubber spatula, mixing until the cheeses are melted and the mixture is well combined. Add the basil and stir in.
Process the bread and butter in a food processor until coarsely ground, and then add the remaining Parmesan and mix.
If you are baking immediately, place the pasta mixture in a baking dish, top with the bread crumb mixture, and bake for 5-10 minutes in a 500° oven, or until the bread crumbs are golden brown.
If you are baking later, refrigerate the pasta mixture in a baking dish until you are ready to bake. Bake in a 400° oven, covered with foil, for 10 minutes. Uncover and top with the bread crumb mixture, and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until warm and bubbly and golden brown on top.
* I like to use whole wheat pasta in most things, since it doesn’t taste very different to me (unless the sauce is very delicate) and it has more protein and fiber.
** You can also substitute one 14.5-oz can of tomatoes, drained, if you don’t have fresh available.