This baked rigatoni wasn't for our dinner; it was for some friends whose young son is gravely ill. I made the same thing a couple of weeks ago for different friends under similar circumstances.
Bringing food. Huh. It's a nice tradition; I do it a lot. It seems completely inadequate right now.
As a lawyer, I'm trained to figure out a way to solve problems. I am an extremely pushy, anal-retentive, overfunctioning lawyer-mom. I am not good with situations where there is nothing to do but hope for the best. Right now, there is nothing much else to do. That is unacceptable to me.
So what else is there? Well, at least my friends could have a nice meal. Maybe it would make them feel a little better, and maybe they'd be a little more well-nourished, and maybe that would give them just a little more strength to cope with the unimaginable.
Baked Rigatoni (serves about 6)
32-ounce can crushed tomatoes
4 Tbsp olive oil
one bunch each fresh basil and oregano
kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
1 pound rigatoni
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage (optional; for veggie rigatoni, omit the sausage)
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated parmesan cheese or Italian 5-cheese blend
1 sweet onion, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
1 sweet bell pepper, diced (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced (more or less to taste)
2 Tablespoons flour
3/4 cup milk (low-fat works fine)
Note: This recipe can be frozen before baking. When baking, preheat oven to 375.
1. Make the sauce. In a pot, combine the crushed tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, the salt and pepper, and the fresh herbs. Cover and simmer while you prepare the rest of the dish.
2. Meanwhile, boil water for the pasta. Cook the rigatoni until just short of al dente, about six minutes. Drain and set aside.
3. While the pasta is boiling, heat the remaining olive oil in a large, deep pan. If using sausage, brown it until it's cooked through, remove from the skillet and set aside. In the same pan over medium-high heat, saute the onion, carrots, garlic, and bell pepper (if using) until the vegetables are very soft.
4. When the vegetables are very soft, sprinkle the flour over them in the pan. Saute, stirring constantly, until the flour is light brown and begins to smell a little nutty. Add the milk and boil, stirring, until it is very thick.
5. Remove the tomato sauce from the heat; remove the herbs and discard. Add the tomato sauce to the vegetable mixture in the pan. Add two cups of the shredded mozzarella and stir until combined.
6. Assemble the final dish: In a large bowl, combine the cooked rigatoni, sausage (if using), remaining mozzarella, and tomato mixture. Stir gently until evenly combined. Transfer to a 9-by-13 baking dish and sprinkle with the grated parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes covered with aluminum foil, then remove foil and bake for about 15 minutes more, until the cheese has started to brown.