The only way I can get my daughter to eat spinach is to pair it with cheese. So, I did. Pasta al Forno, or Baked Pasta, I guess could be considered the great granddaddy of Mac & Cheese. My family adores Pasta al Forno, so whenever I can, I try to come up with interesting variations. One of the most important parts of this recipe is making a great béchamel. Bechamel is silky and creamy, if done properly. The only thing it requires, is time, a good amount of stirring and a proper roux.
Making a roux is easy, ruining it is even easier. This part of the process requires you to be completely aware and not leave it for a second, because it can and will burn! The key is cooking it over very low heat, and stirring constantly. Another tip, is to always slowly stream COLD milk (or cream, if you’re feeling really sinful) into the roux, while stirring vigorously.
Your béchamel should be perfect in about 10 – 15 minutes. When it’s done, take off the heat, and add the salt, pepper and all the cheese you want!
I used a mix of Gruyère, Ricotta Salata, Emmenthal (a.k.a. Swiss Cheese) and Old Amsterdam, which has a slightly nutty flavor, similar to a mild cheddar.
Whatever combination, I am sure this will be a winner at dinner!
So here’s what you’re going to need:
Serves 6 approx.
1 lb pasta, I used gnocchetti
200 g frozen spinach, boiled and drained
4 tbsp butter
4 tbsp all-purpose flour
3 cups cold milk
1 cup cold heavy cream
4 cups mixed, grated cheese
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
1 cup bread crumbs plus 1 tbsp butter, melted
Boil pasta according to package directions, draining one minute before the time on package. Set aside. In a heavy stockpot over very low heat, melt the butter until foamy. Add the flour and whisk. Cook over low heat for about 5-6 minutes, whisking constantly. Slowly pour in your cold milk (or milk and cream), whisking all the time to make sure there are no lumps. Now switch to a wooden spoon. Cook over low heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring all the time, until thickened. Take off the heat and add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and the cheeses.
Add the spinach and pasta to the cheese sauce, mix well. Preheat the oven to 180 C. Add the pasta to a large baking dish, set aside.
In a small bowl, mix the breadcrumbs with the butter until thoroughly combined. Sprinkle on top of the pasta evenly.
Place the pasta in the oven and cook for about 25-30 minutes, or until bubbling and the breadcrumbs are nice and golden. Take out of the oven and let rest 10 minutes before serving.
From my kitchen to yours,