Pasta al Forno
I learned this while I lived in Italy and it has always been a crowd-pleaser.
This is the same recipe I use for lasagna, just with penne or rigatoni noodles substituted for lasagna noodles.
The red sauce recipe can be used by itself on noodles and topped with parmesan for a great "Pasta Bolgnese" dish.
Penne or Rigatoni Pasta
A large pot for the pasta.
A bag of shredded mozarella cheese.
A container of parmesan cheese.
A large baking pan.
A large frying pan.
A large sauce pan.
A ladle for each sauce.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Fill the large pasta pot with water.
Add a LOT of salt to the water and stir it in. The water should be kind of hazy with salt.
Bring the water to a boil on the stove.
Stir in the pasta.
Cook until the pasta is nearly done (if you bite a piece and there's a faint white line near the inside edge of its cross-section, it's ready).
Strain the pasta, but DO NOT rinse it.
Bolognese Sauce (Red)
5 cloves of garlic (or more if you're daring) - peel, chop the ends off, smash with a knife, then finely chop
Half an onion, finely chopped
A healthy splash of extra virgin olive oil (be generous with this!)
Approx 1 lb. of MEAT (ground beef works fine, add mild Italian sausage to the ground beef for extra flavor)
1 Spoonful of Better than Bouillon
2 cans of tomato sauce
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 small can of tomato paste
Other veggies as you please - celery and carrots add a very traditional flavor, mushrooms are also great
Italian spices (oregano, basil)
Add olive oil to a large frying pan under medium heat.
Sautee the garlic in the olive oil until golden (be careful, this part goes fast and can easily burn the garlic)
Add the onion to the golden garlic in the olive oil. Sautee until soft.
Add the Italian spices until the onions and garlic have a healthy dusting.
Add other veggies and sautee until soft.
Add meat and fry until brown/fully cooked.
Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and tomato paste. Stir well.
Add the Better than Bouillon and stir until it dissolves.
Leave simmering on medium heat to reduce the red sauce, stirring occasionally. (This is a good time to make the besciamella white sauce.)
Taste the sauce and see if it needs anything (salt, more Italian spices, sugar, etc.)
Save red sauce for CONSTRUCTION below.
Besciamella Sauce (White)
1.5 Sticks of butter
In the large sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat.
This next part doesn't have exact quantities, you basically add milk and flour until the mixture reaches the consistency of wall spackle (whisking constantly to avoid lumps).
Always add milk first and allow it to come up to temperature, then whisk in flour. As the mixture heats up, it will naturally thicken, so don't be too tempted to add a lot of flour at first. If it's getting too thick, add more milk. Too thin? Add a bit of flour.
When the consistency is correct (thick enough to cling briefly to the whisk) remove from heat and whisk in a sprinkle of nutmeg.
In the large baking pan, lay down a layer of red sauce. (RED)
On top of the red sauce, lay down a layer of pasta. (PASTA)
On top of the pasta, lay down a layer of besciamella (WHITE)
Add a sprinkling of mozarella to the besciamella (WHITE Continued))
Add a sprinkling of parmesan to the mozarella and besciamella (White Continued)
On top of the white layer, add another layer of pasta (PASTA)
Repeat until the layers reach the top of the baking pan. (Red-pasta-white-pasta-repeat)
Always end on a white layer.
Bake at 375 degrees for approx 15-20 minutes (until the white layer on top begins to turn golden)
Allow to cool for approx. 15 minutes.
Serves 4-5 healthy Italians.