Pasta al Forno (Pasta baked in the oven with Ham, Bechamel, Asparagus and Mozzarella)
This baked pasta is so delicious you will find yourself making excuse's to cook again. Pasta is pre-cooked for several minutes, drained and added to bowl where bechamel, mozzarella, parmigiano, cooked ham and cut up asparagus are added and mixed. Poured into baking dish and baked in the oven. This beautiful dish serves up perfect every time. The tricky part is the bechamel, but with a little practice and patience, you can do it too. A meal in a pasta bowl. Buon Appetito
Preheat your oven at bake 350 degrees
One baking dish large enough to acommadate your assembled ingredients.
1 pound of cooked ham, sliced thick. You should be able to get pieces. Cube into small pieces and set aside.
1 cup Parmigiana Cheese
8 oz of Mozzarella sliced thin
1 pound of asparagus, trimmed (woodsy bottoms thrown away), blanched in salted water with a pinch of baking soda. *The baking soda will help the asparagus retain it's bright green color after it's baked. Cut into small pieces and set aside the tips for serving later. Set aside.
Additional tablespoon of butter/ cut into tiny pieces for the top
For the Bechamel:
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons butter
2 plus 1/2 cups whole milk heated (until bubbles form around the edges)
Pinch of salt
Pinch of nutmeg
One pound tubular pasta such as Rigatoni or Mostaccioli
Heat your milk in a pan. In another 3 quart pan, place your butter and heat on low. Let it melt slowly. When you butter is melted add your flour one spoon at a time and combine, stirring constantly. Do not let you flour turn dark. If you see this happening, you will have to start again. The idea here is to form a Roux that will act as a thickening agent for your cream. At this point, turn your heat off and begin adding your hot milk a little at time and combine. You will notice as you stir that your bechamel will thicken. Keep adding your liquid until finished. Your result should be a creamy consistency that should coat the sides of the pan. Add a pinch of salt and a pinch of nutmeg and set aside to cool slightly
Cook your pasta for 5 or so minutes in boiling water. You do not want to cook any further as your pasta will cook while being baked in the oven. Do not overcook. Reserve a few tablespoons of starchy water. Drain and set aside.
Into a bowl: Ham, asparagus pieces, 3/4 cup Parmigiano and half the mozzarella slices. Add your drained pasta (still hot), and mix. Add 1/4 cup of your Bechamel in the botttom of your baking dish and spread. Add your reserved Bechamel to your bowl with your pasta and mix gently. Pour into your baking dish. Spread evenly and add sprinkle of your reserved Parmigiano, evenly distribute mozzarella cheese across the top and dab with your butter pieces across the top. Bake in the oven covered for 25 minutes on 350. Remove the cover and bake for 10 minutes more. Look for the top to turn golden. Be careful not to burn. (The steam from the covered baking dish will cook your pasta). Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes before serving in pasta bowls. The dish is hearty and goes a long way. Add your reserved Asparagus tips and serve. Buon Appetito.