If you were to ask around for a restaurant recommendation in Providence, Rhode Island, chances are high that you will be directed towards Al Forno. Regarded as the birthplace of the grilled pizza in America, Al Forno dishes up creative, high quality Italian cuisine in the Ocean State’s capital. While the restaurant’s pizzas and made-to-order desserts are extraordinary, its baked pastas are indulgent and incredibly satisfying.
Al Forno’s baked pasta dishes vary depending on the season, but most are prepared with heavy cream and multiple cheeses, sometimes up to five, and then baked in the baked oven. What results is a lightly browned and crispy coating that masks the tender, cheesy pasta underneath. Although undoubtedly worth every bite, Al Forno’s baked pastas are not exactly ideal for those resolving to eat healthier in 2012.
For those wishing to enjoy a baked pasta dish without overdoing it on the cheese: consider baking stuffed pasta. Instead of making a rich cheese sauce from scratch, simply prepare tortellini or ravioli according to package directions, drain and mix with your favorite red sauce. If you add a few vegetables, you can also boost the nutrition and add color to the mix. Alternating layers of pasta and cheese, including the ever-important final dusting of cheese, and then baking in the oven mimics Al Forno’s tradition with minimal effort and…fewer calories. The gooeyness of the cheese combined with the baked top crust make this dish an easy shoo-in for those days when you’re craving something hearty, warm and comforting.
Bethany Imondi, a junior studying Government and English at Georgetown University, has resolved to run a 10k, apply to law school and take more pictures in 2012. Read more…
You can also substitute your favorite ravioli for the tortellini.
1 1/2 cups of baby spinach
1/2 batch of Marinara sauce (see recipe below), or 15-ounces of your favorite jarred Marinara
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, not in oil, chopped
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
12 ounces tortellini
Preheat oven to 425°F. Put spinach in a colander in the sink.
In a large bowl, combine prepared Marinara sauce and sun-dried tomatoes together. In a smaller bowl, combine mozzarella and Parmesan. Set aside.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add stuffed pasta and cook until al dente according to package directions. Drain pasta over spinach to wilt.
Add pasta to Marinara mixture. In a 9 x 1 1/2-inch baking dish, place about 1/3 of pasta in the dish to cover the bottom. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese mixture. Repeat with remaining pasta and cheese mixtures, finishing with the cheese on top.
Place in the oven, and bake until hot and bubbly throughout, about 12 minutes.
Makes about 3 1/2 cups
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon of sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
Heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a medium-size saucepan. Add chopped onions and cook until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
Add garlic cloves to the pot, and cook for for about 30 seconds.
Slowly add the tomatoes, sugar and salt. Stir to combine. Cover and let simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.