Pasta al Forno with Collards and Baked Eggs
I have managed to get really creative with the eminent leftover collard greens that always stick around after a meal. When I buy collards, I usually prepare the whole bunch; cleaning, blanching and braising them is a process and I am not going to do it more than once a week, or even that frequently. We love collards in this house and despite the fact that we eat like pigs, we can’t eat a whole bunch of collards in one sitting and usually don’t want them with the same face, reheated, the next night. It has made me get creative, making pizza, lasagna and now a baked pasta.
I have fond memories of wonderful baked pastas on Sundays that my host mother in Basilicata would make. They were so rich and complex, there were often baked eggs in the center, usually very meaty and abundant in goodness. I decided that I would go in this vein of an insane pasta al forno with eggs baked in the center, and a sausage ragù with roasted tomatoes from the farmer’s market (yes they are still growing in South Carolina). It was a meal fit for a king, the meaty sauce paired beautifully with the collard greens, but the eggs were lost, I probably needed to add a few more. I may try hard boiling them the next time I want to make a gluttonous pasta al forno.
Pasta al Forno with Collards & Baked Eggs
For the sauce:
- 3 Italian sausages, casings removed (I also had some artisinal guinea hog breakfast sausages and threw them in)
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 1 stalk of celery, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1 box of Pomì strained tomatoes (of course any high quality tomato will do for this)
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
Heat a dutch oven or a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add sausages, breaking them up with a wooden spoon as they cook. Once they have thoroughly browned, remove the meat to a bowl and set aside. Place pot back on heat and add the olive oil, add onions, carrots and celery and let cook until the onions are transparent, stirring frequently. Add the strained tomatoes and 1 cup of water to dilute. Bring to a simmer and lower the heat to medium-low. Stirring occasionally and adding water as the ragù starts to dry out, allow to simmer for at least 3 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400°. Wash and halve the tomatoes before tossing them on a baking sheet with 1 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. Roast the tomatoes for 5 to 10 minutes, until they have shriveled and browned a bit. Add to the sauce when they are perfectly caramelized, this adds a wonderful depth of flavor.
Assembling the pasta:
- 1 lb penne or any short pasta on hand
- braised collard greens (recipe here)
- 8 ounces mozzarella, thinly sliced
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino cheese, or a combination
- 3 – 6 eggs (3 didn’t make enough of an impression, I suggest more, especially if this is for a lot of people and trust me, it will feed an army, we ate on it for days)
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until it is almost tender enough to eat, about 2 minutes less than usual.
Spread about ¾ cup of the ragù on the bottom of a 9- by 13- by 2-inch baking dish.
When the ziti is done, drain it well, then toss it with enough ragù to dress it, but not smother it.
Spread half of the pasta in the baking dish. Evenly spoon over it ¾ cup more ragù. Cover with collard greens, half of the sliced mozzarella and ½ cup of the Parmigiano. Top with the rest of the pasta, creating little cups where you will drop the eggs. Crack the eggs and drop them in the little cups, careful that the yolks stay intact. Add the rest of the ragù, covering the pasta and the eggs and the remaining mozzarella and parmigiano.
Bake for about 45 minutes, or until bubbling.
Let the casserole cool for 10 minutes before cutting it into portions. Serve hot.
Two Years Ago: Penne alla Boscaiola