STEPS 5 INGREDIENTS 8 TIME 45-50 MINS
This delectable baked rigatoni recipe is little more than tube pasta that’s been smothered in a special version of béchamel sauce and baked. But simple to make doesn’t mean plain to taste. No sir, this is one moreish little scoundrel of a dish.
The béchamel sauce we’ll cook up for this baked rigatoni is a little different to, and also a little tastier than, my standard béchamel sauce recipe. That’s because inside the sauce is where we place the zucchini (or courgette as us pesky Brits like to call it).
This means you won’t see any big chunks of veg in your final dish. Instead it’s about a bowl of creamy sauce-drowned tube pasta with a nutritious twist that’ll have you and your fellow eaters coming back for more.
Not a big fan of zucchini?
If you really don’t dig zucchini, this recipe remains your flexible friend as you can replace the zucchini with any veg that lends itself to boiling up and pureeing. So maybe pumpkin, or artichokes, or asparagus. It’s named zucchini pasta here, but in fact it can be almost any veggie pasta you prefer.
Here’s the process…
We boil and blend the veg, make the béchamel sauce, boil the rigatoni, place the pasta and some mozzarella chunks in a baking dish, sprinkle over some parmesan and breadcrumbs, then bake it in the oven. Done, dusted and ready to munch!
500g/17.5oz rigatoni or other narrow tube pasta (we actually use candele below)
1 liter/2.1 pints of half-and-half/semi-skimmed milk
3 good-sized zucchini/courgettes
100g/3.5oz butter (chopped into small 1cm/half-inch-square cubes)
1x 200g/7oz ball of mozzarella cheese
30g/1oz grated parmesan cheese
60g/2oz (4 tablespoons) plain/all-purpose flour
Handful of breadcrumbs
Half a teaspoon of grated nutmeg (ideally bought whole and grated)
Step 1 – Give the zucchini a good rinse, chop off their ends and chop them roughly.
– Then boil these zucchini in a pan of salted water until nice and soft (approx. 10 minutes).
– Lastly, just whiz these molten veggies in a food processor until they form a fine puree (for beginners, that’s simply a posh way of saying mush).
Step 2 – With the zucchini done, we’ll make the standard part of the béchamel sauce:
– Pop the milk in a pan and gently sieve the flour in while stirring all the while. (A ‘forward and back’ motion with the spoon works better than around and around.) Squish any large lumps of flour with the spoon.
– Place the pan on a maximum heat hob for 2 mins to get the milk warming (not boiling!), then turn down to medium and add the nutmeg, butter, and a good handful of salt. Stir gently.
– Now the boring bit 🙁 Stir the sauce continuously, slowly, until the butter melts and the sauce then turns creamy. This usually takes 20-25 minutes, so if you can get a little helper involved, now’s the time.
Note: This stirring is the main event as far as making béchamel sauce is concerned. Keep the tempo slow and the stirring smooth. You can stir around and around, but keep the direction the same (my Mamma Marisa’s rule, don’t question it!).
– Look out for the moment the sauce ‘turns’. The butter stays on the surface for 10 minutes or more and then, blam!, it’s gone… and instead you’re staring at a white creamy sauce. Bizarre but true!
– The sauce will need another 5 or 10 minutes stirring after this creaming point (within the 20-25 mins above), so keep the faith and keep stirring…
– When the sauce turns to full cream (in other words, it drips slowly off your spoon rather than being very liquidy), it’s done.
– Finally for the sauce, just mix in the zucchini paste and set to one side.
Step 3 – Boil up a large pan of well-salted water, and cook your pasta for 2 minutes less than its packet suggests. This way it will be al dente (literally ‘firm to the tooth’), which is all that’s required when we’re going to bake it too.
Step 4 – Now to build the final dish, first stain the bottom of a baking dish or lasagna tin (our 4-person dish measures 30cm/12″ x 15cm/6″).
– Use half the drained pasta tubes (or shells) to create one layer in the dish.
– Sprinkle over the mozzarella chunks and just under half the béchamel sauce.
– Layer on the rest of the pasta, then pour over the remaining béchamel, plus sprinkle over the grated parmesan cheese and a handful of breadcrumbs.
Step 5 – Bake in a pre-heated 180C/350F oven until nicely browned on top (approx. 20 minutes).
Meaty version: if you are missing the flesh or simply want to change it up next time around, why not fry and then mix in some pancetta bacon chunks?