Way before I even knew what mac & cheese was, there was only pasta al forno! You can simply translate it to baked pasta but I don’t feel it gives this dish the respect it deserves. There are so many regional varieties and combinations to create with it that possibilities are endless.
On this occasion, I choose to stick to a pasta shape that seemed to prove very popular in the past few years, the large Conchiglioni by Rustichella d’Abruzzo.
Their large cavity is perfect for stuffing with delicious ingredients and I believe it is when baked that this pasta gives its absolute best.
As the autumn season is fast approaching the combination of pumpkin, gorgonzola, and seasonal greens seemed just perfect to celebrate this beautiful pasta and tradition.
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Categories: Pasta / Main course
300g of Conchiglioni Rustichella d’Abruzzo
1 small pumpkin (about 700g)
250g of cavolo nero (or curly kale)
200g of gorgonzola cheese
30g of grated Grana Padano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
For the cheesy béchamel
500ml of milk
40g of butter
40g of plain flour
60g of Grated Grana Padano
Salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste
To prepare the béchamel, melt the butter in a casserole and add the sieved flour to it. Cook for a couple of minutes on medium heat until the roux (mix of butter and flour) is well golden. Now pour in the milk, stirring vigorously with a whisk, and bring to boiling point while continuing to mix. Season with salt and pepper and a touch of nutmeg. The béchamel should be now ready, creamy, and with no lumps. Remove from the heat and stir in the grated Grana Padano cheese until it melts. If there are lumps, pass the sauce through a fine sieve.
To make the pumpkin pure, cut it into slices and follow this hack to speed up the puree preparation. Place the pumpkin in a microwave-safe dish and cover with film. Cook at maximum power for about 12 minutes in sessions of 3 minutes each as you don’t want the tray and the oven to overheat. When soft, remove the pumpkin from the tray, season with salt, pepper, a little grated cheese, and drizzle over some oil and pulse it into a food processor until smooth.
You can alternatively cook the pumpkin slice as tradition wants in the oven at 160 with a drizzle of oil, a few leaves of thyme, and a couple of crushed garlic cloves. Use parchment on your baking tray and cover with foil. This method will take about 20 minutes to get the pumpkin soft.
To get the pumpkin pure firm, dense, and remove the water excess, let it drain overnight in a fine sieve. Put it in a piping bag.
Rinse the cavolo nero and discard the woody stalks. Cook in salted boiling water for about 4 minutes and let it cool down. Chop roughly.
Drop the Conchiglioni in a large pot of salted boiling water and cook until ‘al dente’ for about 12 minutes. Mix every now and then. Drain the pasta and spread it onto a large tray. Drizzle with a little oil and let it cool.
Now proceed to stuff the conchiglioni. Spread a thick layer of béchamel in an ovenproof dish and top with the blanched cavolo nero and a little grated Grana Padano cheese. Now stuff each conchiglioni with the pumpkin pure and a cube of gorgonzola cheese and lay them on top of the cavolo nero. Drizzle with the remaining béchamel and top with extra grated cheese.
Bake at 180 for about 20 minutes or until golden and crispy.
Recipe by Danilo Cortellini