Once in a while, if I can't get myself motivated to clean my house, I invite people over. That usually does the trick. This Sunday, I hosted a little belated birthday dinner for one of my best friends, and I tell you, it was one of the most productive weekends I've ever had. Saturday morning, our Christmas tree was still up (and fully decorated), the front porch still had colored lights on it, and all the evidence of a week in the life of a busy couple (laundry, mail, dishes) was piled everywhere. By Sunday evening, the Christmas decorations were all packed in boxes and moved to the basement, the living room furniture was rearranged, sheets, towels, clothing and dishes were clean and put away, and furniture and floors were dusted, buffed and shining. I even started working on my dastardly project of a messy second bedroom. By the time people arrived, the table was set, appetizers out, Champagne chilled, salad ready, and this delicious pasta casserole in the oven. It was a proud moment, and the beginning of a lovely evening.
I'm usually not into things called "casseroles," because in my brain that word conjures something mushy, bland, and probably drenched in canned cream of something soup. This could not be farther from that. Layers of whole wheat pasta cooked al dente, creamy fontina and tangy Parmigiano Reggiano, mustardy cabbage, and tiny purple and white potatoes. It's comforting without being heavy, and it will warm you from the inside out. This is casserole's sophisticated older sister. I hope you enjoy it!
Wintry Pasta al Forno
adapted from 101cookbooks
Use whatever noodles you like in this recipe, and whatever creamy cheese. I can imagine endless variations; my next one will certainly involve gorgonzola and rosemary.
12 ounces whole wheat fettuccine, broken into 3-inch pieces
1 pound small potatoes (I found the purple ones at Costco!)
2 medium leeks, white parts only, rinsed well and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 medium head of cabbage, cored and shredded
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 tablespoons (or more to taste) whole grain mustard
1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano
16 fresh sage leaves, slivered
4 ounces fontina or other soft, melty cheese, cut into small cubes
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente, and set aside. Meanwhile, cover the potatoes with water, salt generously, and simmer until tender, 30-45 minutes. Drain and slice - mine were so tiny, that some of them just got cut in half. It's all good. Season with a bit of salt and set aside.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the leeks. Saute until soft, about 3 minutes, and then add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Stir in the cabbage, and then the broth. Cover and cook until cabbage is tender. Remove from heat and stir in the mustard, 1/2 cup of the Parmigiano Reggiano, one teaspoon of salt, and half of the slivered sage leaves. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. (I would happily serve this sauteed cabbage as a side dish; it's amazing on its own.)
Butter a 9x13-inch baking dish, and layer half of the noodles, then half the cabbage, potatoes, and half of the fontina and remaining Parmigiano. Repeat with remainder of ingredients, and finish by sprinkling remaining slivered sage over the top. Bake at 400 degrees until golden and hot, about 45 minutes. Serve immediately.