A few months ago, the grocery store had bags of giant penne for about a dollar. It seemed like such a fun pasta shape that I had to get it. I ended up using the pasta in a way similar to manicotti. The baked penne gigante ended up as if manicotti had a baby with lasagna roll ups. I was happy with how this kitchen experiment turned out.
Like manicotti or lasagna, this baked penne has quite a few components that need to be assembled before the entire dish comes together. But, none of the steps are complicated, making this a hearty and comforting meal that anyone should be able to prepare without much difficulty.
You can even simplify a couple of the steps more than I have. For example, you can use your favorite jarred sauce instead of making your own. Or, If you want to make it a vegetarian dish, leave out the ground meat step.
The trickiest part of this dish is getting the pasta cooked to the right doneness. The pasta goes through two cooking processes in this dish. You don’t want to overcook it at either step or else it turns to mush. So, when cooking the pasta the first time, make sure you cook it a couple of minutes less than the package directions. It will still have quite a bit of bite and chew to it. You just want to soften it slightly. It will finish cooking in the oven.
A piping bag works best to fill the penne. If you don’t have a piping bag, a ziplock bag also works . Now, a trick I use to fill the piping bag is to place it in a drinking glass, folding the top edge down over the rim of the glass. This seems like the cleanest and tidiest way I have found to fill a piping bag.
Baked Penne Gigante
- 1 lb giant penne
- 30 oz ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp dried basil
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 small onion
- 15oz diced tomatoes with basil, oragano, and garlic
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 lb ground beef
- 2 tbsp pesto
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- salt for pasta water
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- Mix the ground beef and the pesto, then form into small meatballs. Place the meatballs in a 9×13 baking dish and bake in the oven 10-15 minutes or until nearly done.
- Dice the onion and saute in a saucepan until softened. Add the tomato paste and saute until the tomato paste has bloomed and slightly darkened in color. Then add the diced tomatoes, seasoning with salt and pepper. Simmer the sauce for 10-15 mintues. Puree the sauce in a blender or with an immersion blender. Add the cooked meatballs to the sauce and set aside.
- Mix the ricotta with the egg and dried herbs. Grate in the clove of garlic, mixing it with the ricotta as well. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil, seasoning the water with a handful of kosher salt. When the water is boiling add the pasta.
- Cook the pasta for a couple minutes under the instructions (for about 8 minutes). You want them to still have quite a bit of bite to them so that they don't overcook in the oven during the second cooking process.
- When the pasta has cooked for about 8 minutes, drain the pasta (reserving about 1/2 a cup of the pasta water) and rince in cold water to cool the pasta enough that you can handle the penne.
- Add the reserved pasta water to the tomato sauce.
- Place the ricotta mixture into a piping bag and fill the penne with the ricotta mixture, arranging each piece of pasta in the same 9×13 pan you baked the meatballs in.
- Once all of the filled pasta pieces are arranged in the baking dish, pour the sauce over the pasta, arranging the meatballs if needed.
- Sprinkle the top with the shredded cheese and parmesan cheese.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until all of the pasta is tender or al dente.