Pasta with wild mushrooms and rosemary is an elegant dish, the kind of thing you’d see at restaurants or maybe make yourself for a dinner party.
But take that same pasta, smother it with fontina and ricotta cheeses, plop it into a casserole dish and bake it, and you’ve turned what was once genteel into a supremely comforting, kid-pleasing dish that’s still sophisticated enough for adults.
This is exactly what I’ve done here. I’ve upped the ante on a standard yet irresistibly gooey pasta bake by adding roasted wild mushrooms and creamy, funky fontina cheese.
Roasting the mushrooms lends this dish its earthy, heady charm. Mushrooms are mostly water, and cooking them at high heat condenses their flavor, caramelizes their sugars and gives them crunchy edges.
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Another reason to make this, besides the universal browned, gooey appeal of a baked pasta casserole, is that you can do it almost entirely in advance. Roast the mushrooms, cook the pasta and even assemble the entire dish up to 8 hours ahead. Add a few minutes to the cooking time if it’s still cold from the refrigerator.
This is one pasta casserole everyone will all get behind.
Baked Cheesy Pasta Casserole With Wild Mushrooms
1 pound mixed wild or cultivated mushrooms, such as oyster, maitake and shiitake
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and black pepper, more as needed
2 fresh rosemary branches
1/2 pound orecchiette, farfalle or other short pasta
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup fresh ricotta
5 ounces fontina cheese, grated (1 1/4 cups)
2 ounces Parmesan, grated (1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage
1 garlic clove, finely grated
Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Trim the mushrooms and cut into 1-inch pieces. Toss with the olive oil, the salt, a few grinds of pepper and the rosemary. Spread on a large baking sheet and roast, tossing once or twice, until golden brown and crisped around the edges, 15 to 18 minutes. Discard rosemary.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for at least a few minutes less than the package directs. (You want the pasta very al dente; it will finish softening in the sauce.) Drain well.
Turn oven up to 500 degrees. In a large bowl, stir together the cream, ricotta, fontina, Parmesan, sage, pepper, garlic and a pinch of salt. Stir in the pasta and mushrooms. Arrange in a shallow 2-quart gratin dish or 13-by-9-inch pan. Bake until cheese is melted and bubbly and browned in spots, 10 to 15 minutes.
Yield: 8 servings