A fabulous array of leafy local greens, purchased before the hard winter frosts arrive, is my inspiration for a hearty one-dish supper. The Italian staple, Pasta al Forno (baked in the oven), is a family favorite in this country, commonly served in the guise of lasagna and macaroni and cheese. I have gone beyond the pot-luck staples to layer farfalle, sautéed greens, chickpeas and tomato sauce, with a topping of creamy bechamel. The addition of sausage creates a more robust meal, and for vegetarians you can substitute sautéed shitake mushrooms. Although the dish involves several stages, most of the components can be made ahead, before assembling at the last minute, popping in the oven and waiting for the wonderful savory aromas to fill your kitchen.
Pasta al Forno with Fall Greens, Sausage and Chickpeas
1. The Greens
I mixed robust Lacinato kale, tender swiss chard and a few leaves of mustard greens for added spiciness. Russian kale and broccoli rabe are also great choices.
4 cups washed Lacinato, aka Dinosaur Kale, tough ribs removed and shredded crosswise
2 cups washed swiss chard, ribs and stalks removed and shredded crosswise
1 cup washed mustard greens, stalks removed and shredded crosswise
2 tbsp olive oil
1 peeled clove garlic finely minced
½ tsp Aleppo Pepper or a pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt to taste
Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet, add the garlic and cook gently over low heat for one minute. Do not allow garlic to brown. Add the salt, Aleppo/Red pepper flakes and stir into the oil and garlic mixture, before adding the Lacinato kale and sautéing for about 3 minutes. Keep the greens moving around in the pan to prevent sticking and burning. Stir in the tender chard and mustard greens and cook for about one minute. Add 1/3 cup of broth or water and cook for a further three minutes until water is absorbed but mixture is still moist. Remove greens from pan and set aside. Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours.
2. Tomato Sauce
2 cups canned tomatoes and juices
1 peeled clove garlic, finely minced
1 large shallot, finely minced
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt
Salt and black pepper
Puree the tomatoes roughly in food processor or blender. Gently heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet and add the shallot. Sauté over low heat for a couple of minutes before adding the garlic and cooking for a further two minutes. Mixture should not brown. Add the tomatoes, salt and thyme sprig. Bring mixture to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, discard the thyme sprig and add a couple of twists of fresh ground black pepper. Sauce can be refrigerated for up to two days.
3. Bechamel Sauce
2 cups whole milk
2 ½ Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp plus two tsp all-purpose flour
1 bay leaf
6 Black peppercorns
1 large shallot peeled and quartered
½ tsp finely grated nutmeg
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
Place the milk, bay leaf, peppercorns, shallot and nutmeg in a heavy pan. Warm the milk over low heat until small bubbles appear around the edges. Do not bring to a boil. Remove pan from heat and set aside for 15 minutes to allow flavors to infuse. Strain the milk through a sieve to discard solids. Gently melt the butter in a small heavy saucepan, before adding the flour and cooking slowly over low heat for a couple of minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from browning. Gradually add the milk, still stirring and cook over low heat for about three minutes as the sauce thickens. If at any time the mixture starts to form lumps, remove from the heat and whisk vigorously before returning to the stove. Can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for up to 12 hours. If you want to prevent the skin that forms on top of the sauce, you can put a circle of parchment paper directly on the surface of the mixture. I seldom bother and just stir it in before adding to the pasta dish.
4. Additional Ingredients & Assembly
I was happy to find some delicious roasted garlic and thyme sausages at 8 Hands Farm in Cutchogue, but any hearty variety such as Italian hot or sweet sausage will work well. Farfalle or fusilli are the best pasta shapes for this dish. I like to use a wholegrain variety and purchased Farro fusilli from Lombardi’s market in Mattituck. Regular durum wheat pasta will be just fine.
12 oz. farfalle or fusilli pasta
1 15 ½ oz can of chick peas, drained
¾ lbs. sausage (about 3 large) cooked and cut into one inch pieces
2 cups sliced and sautéed shitake or portobello mushrooms (if substituting for sausage)
2 tbsps. Extra virgin olive oil
¾ cup finely grated parmesan cheese (do not use ready grated)
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente (will continue to cook in the oven) and drain, reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking water. Warm the tomato sauce, chick peas and greens over low heat in a large shallow pan that is big enough to hold all the ingredients. Add the pasta and sausage and ¼ cup of the cooking water and stir together over low heat for a further two minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in 2 tbsp. olive oil and ¼ cup parmesan. Add salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste. If the mixture seems dry, add more of the pasta cooking water. Swirl a quarter cup of the bechamel over the bottom of a large ovenproof baking dish, add the pasta mixture and top with the remaining bechamel. Sprinkle ½ cup parmesan in an even layer over the top before placing in a 370-degree oven. Bake for about 25 minutes until mixture is bubbling. Rest at room temperature for about 15 to 20 minutes before serving with lots of crusty bread. Makes 6-8 hearty servings.
Alison Boyd-Savage worked in advertising before running a catering business in her native London. After moving to Long Island, she first settled in Bridgehampton, where she worked as a private chef. Five years later, the quiet beauty of the North Fork prompted a move to Southold. On weekends she loves to entertain, and can be found scouting the local farm stands for seasonal produce and visiting the markets for local fish, meat and eggs. Each month, she now shares some of these dishes on the back page of the East End Beacon.