Still being in the depths of winter all we want to eat in our house is comfort food. I am dreaming about Spring and Summer and all the bounty it brings with it. I am itching to plant herbs and try my luck at a few of my favorite vegetables. My garden is puny but I plant wherever there is a patch of dirt! More on my whole gardening life when it is happening…..For now the evening meals are robust and filling, bringing me to tonight’s fare. I have been making this dish for absolutely years and it never fails to please. This is our version of “macaroni & cheese” without the creamy sauce and the little noodles clinging to it’s cheesiness! I’m not against a good creamy pasta but tonight I wanted a fresher lighter taste and so I made my old stand-by. I use ridged penne noodles and cherry tomatoes (I use freshly sliced tomatoes from my, or a neighbor’s garden in the Summer and Autumn). Cheese is involved but no butter or cream. I used bacon tonight but that is not always the case. I just happen to have it and it gives a lovely salty and bacon-y-ness to the dish. The bacon also satisfies my husband who always wants to see a bit of meat on the plate! This whole dinner takes an hour from the time you put the pasta water on to the time the baking dish comes out of the oven.
You will need: 1 lb box ridged penne (I buy a mini ridged penne by Barilla), 1 lb cheese (use fontina for a mild nutty taste or a hard cheddar for something stronger, or, a mix of both), 2 cups cherry tomatoes or 4 medium ripe tomatoes, 1 lb bacon, 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs (I use the food processor or a grater and make my own – use about 3 slices of white bread,- any kind), kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, 1 tbs unsalted butter (optional), some butter to grease baking dish.
Preheat oven 350*
do everything in this order for smooth sailing: Put pot of water on for pasta, add 1 tsp salt to water. Cook according to directions. When cooked drain in colander and rinse under cold water (I never rinse pasta but I have found out from
experimenting that it makes for a much better dish – the pasta stays firm and separates nicely from each other) Cook all bacon and drain on paper towels, chop into big slices when cool – about 1/4 inch, (you can cook bacon earlier in the day or the day before and keep it in the fridge until you need it) While the pasta & bacon are cooking grate all of the cheese and set aside in a bowl, wash tomatoes (slice if not using the cherry type) and set aside. Make breadcrumbs. Lightly butter a 12″ casserole. When bacon and pasta are cooked you are ready to go into
assembly mode! Line bottom of dish with 1/2 of the tomatoes and sprinkle with
salt and pepper to season, add 1/2 of the pasta and spread evenly. Next top with
half of the bacon and cover with 1/2 of the chopped cheese. Repeat with
tomatoes, salt, pepper, pasta, bacon and cheese. You should now be at the top of your dish. Sprinkle entire top with breadcrumbs. Dot with tablespoon of butter if using (I don’t do this often) and place in center of oven for 40 minutes or until
the top is golden. Let it rest for five minutes before serving. I always have spinach in the house and serve this with spinach on the side of my plate. You could go with a salad also? My husband puts a ranch style dressing on his spinach and it sort of mixes in with the pasta as he eats. He loves the combination (give it a try if you like!)