Every so often, I am completely thrown by how easy it can be to make an amazing dish. If you know just a few basic cooking points, it's a snap to build off of things you've eaten in restaurants or read about online and create something of your very own. That's what happened to me this weekend. Using a simple recipe for a roux from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I whipped up a creamy sauce and added some grated cheese that I just happened to have in my refrigerator. It needed a little something else, so I opened a can of crushed tomatoes from my pantry and added it by 1/3-cups until I was satisfied with the taste. I had read a recipe earlier this week about a baked pasta dish from Giada DeLaurentiis, and thought that the added texture of baked, crunchy noodles would be a nice change from my traditional pasta-sauce dinner combination. Throwing all of those ideas together resulted in this creamy, cheesy, and very easy pasta bake! And the whole dish began with reading a few recipes online and deciding to make a béchamel sauce. It can really be that easy!
Tomato Cream Pasta Bake
2 tbls unsalted butter
3 tbls flour
2 cups milk
1/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus another handful for topping
2/3 cup canned crushed tomato
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 pound short pasta noodles (I used fusilli noodles)
1/4 cup chopped basil
salt & pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a small pan, heat the milk until it just starts to boil. Remove from heat.
In a larger pan, cook the pasta according to the package directions, but cook it just shy of completely cooked. The pasta will continue cooking in the oven. While the water is boiling/pasta is cooking, start to cook the sauce.
In a large sauce pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Sprinkle the flour over the melted butter and whisk to combine and cook the flour. Once the flour and butter has combined into a paste (a roux), remove the pan from heat and add the milk. Whisk continuously until the rue has dissolved into the milk, then put the sauce pan back under medium heat and whisk occasionally until the sauce just starts to boil. (Now you've made a béchamel sauce - fancy!) Add the cheeses, crushed tomatoes, and garlic powder, to the sauce. Whisk to combine. Taste and add salt & pepper as needed.
Add the cooked pasta to the tomato cheese sauce. Pour the pasta into a shallow 9x9-inch baking dish and top with a handful of Parmesan cheese. Bake until the sauce is bubbling and the top has some crunch and is browned. Top with the chopped basil. Serve and enjoy!