I love baked pastas of all kind (as you probably know), as long as the gratinato, the cheese topping, is properly applied with a light touch, and baked sufficiently, so the cheese is deeply colored, melted and perfectly crisp at the same time. This Calabrian baked cavatappi has two touches I particularly appreciate: a layer of sliced hard-cooked eggs inside (lending more taste and more protein), and an extra dimension of crunch from bread crumbs on top. You can enhance many other baked pasta recipes this way.
- Kosher salt for the pasta pot
- 1 pound cavatappi or penne
- 4 cups Tomato Sauce (see here)
- 1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano
- 2 tablespoons soft butter
- 6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled, sliced in ½-inch rounds
- 1 pound shredded provola or provolone, preferably imported from Italy
- ¼ cup fine dry bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
You will need a large pot for cooking the pasta; a 4-quart rectangular baking dish or oval gratin dish.
Fill the pasta pot with salted water (at least 1 tablespoon salt), and heat to a rolling boil. Stir in the cavatappi, and cook at the boil until al dente (about 2 minutes less than the package directions). Drain the pasta well in a colander, and put it in a big bowl. Pour in 2 cups of the tomato sauce, sprinkle over it ½ cup of the grated grana, and toss well, to dress all the cavatappi evenly.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 400º; brush the baking dish with the butter. Spill in half of the dressed pasta, spreading it out to fill the pan bottom in an even layer, and arrange the cooked egg slices on top. Scatter half the shredded provola evenly over the eggs, then spread a cup of tomato sauce on top of the cheese.
Next, arrange all the remaining pasta in a flat, even layer, then spoon ¾ cup tomato sauce on top. Sprinkle the remaining grated grana and the rest of the provola over the pasta; scatter the bread crumbs over all, and drizzle the last bit of tomato sauce on the top.
Tent the baking dish with a sheet of aluminum foil, arching it so it doesn’t touch the crumb topping and pressing it against the sides. Set the dish in the oven, and bake for 35 minutes, then remove the foil, and bake another 15 minute or so, until the top is nicely browned and crusty. Serve hot!