Mario Batali: The discreet charm of baked pasta

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Manicotti

Baked pasta is classic comfort food and easy to make. But it's important to follow two basic rules. (Photo by Quentin Bacon/MCT / November 5, 2012)

Baked pasta is classic comfort food and easy to make. But it's important to follow two basic rules.

First, the pasta should not be cooked more than an hour before baking and serving, or it will lose its toothsome bite.

Second, it is importantissimo to undercook the pasta in the boiling water so that the finished dish still has real texture. If the package instructions indicate that the pasta should be cooked for 10 minutes, cook it for five minutes. You want the noodle really al dente when removed from the boiling water, because it will cook in the oven for another 20 minutes.

This dish can be made just as easily with any shape of pasta. I start with a simple filling of veal, lamb and prosciutto cotto, egg and herbs. Fill (or coat, depending on the pasta shape) the partially cooked pasta with the filling, cover with tomato-based sauce, top with cheese, then bake.

After 25 minutes in the oven, if it's not quite crispy golden brown on top, throw it under the broiler for some color.

This is the kind of dish that can live in your fridge for a few days. Carve off a little bit every night then throw it back. It works just as well on day three.

Manicotti Baresi al Forno

Recipe reprinted from "Molto Batali" (ecco, 2011)

Serves 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 as a main.

2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 pounds ground veal

2 pounds ground lamb

Salt

2 (16-ounce) packages manicotti pasta

1 pound prosciutto cotto, cut into 1/4-inch dice

2 large eggs

1 cup plus 1/4 cup plus 1/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 cups fresh ricotta, drained

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