Between the two cheese-loving men in my household, we wind up with a lot of bricks in the fridge at any given time. Mozzarella, cheddar, manchego, gruyere, you name it. Plus I use ricotta a lot, and consider Parmesan a staple (obviously). So basically, even though my toddler can put down almost as much cheese as my husband, and I have never known my husband to turn down a slice of cheddar, every now and again I realize we have a little bit of this, a little bit of that – and it all needs to get used up sooner rather than later.
If you ever have the same issue, this pasta dish is the answer. I’ve made it three times, each with a different mix of cheeses, and every single combo has been delicious. The kind of meal you’re tempted to keep picking at long after you’re full, just because. It probably has something to do with the crisp, toasted cheesy surface, or maybe with how perfectly the sauce at the bottom of the skillet lends itself to sopping up with the last bites of pasta or a torn-off hunk of crusty bread. The last time I made this for dinner, I added a little extra veggie, just to make it more of an all-in-one meal. It certainly wasn’t any worse for the additions, and I believe Henry might have even eaten a few peas. Peas soaked in cheesy tomato sauce, admittedly, but still it’s a green vegetable down the hatch, right? Growth, my friends, growth.
Cheesy Skillet-Baked Pasta
- 1 lb. small or medium pasta shells (aim for something with curves, to maximize its sauce-holding potential)
- 1 cup ricotta cheese (5-6 ounces)
- 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese (about 3 ounces)*
- 1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese (about 3 ounces)*
- 1 cup grated fontina cheese (about 3 ounces)*
- 1 cup crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup whole milk
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 1 tbsp. rosemary leaves, finely chopped
- a handful of fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
- 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
*Note: You can substitute freely, mix and match, and adjust the amounts of each cheese to suit what you have on hand, as long as you end up with approximately 9 ounces total of grated cheese. Use your imagination! I’ve swapped in various amounts of Parmesan, gruyere, gouda, and emmenthal with success. I would recommend keeping in the 5-6 ounces of ricotta, because its creamy texture helps the other, grated cheeses bind together nicely.
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the pasta and cook until just barely soft, very al dente, about 2 minutes less than called for on the package. (It will absorb some of the sauce and continue to soften in the oven.) Drain the cooked pasta and set aside.
- Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.
- In a large bowl, combine the ricotta and grated cheeses. Stir to blend well, then scoop about half the cheese mixture out into a small bowl and set aside.
- In the large bowl, add the crushed tomatoes and milk to the remaining cheese mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste, peas, rosemary, and most of the chopped basil, reserving a small amount of basil for garnish. Add the drained pasta to the bowl and stir to combine.
- Coat the sides and bottom of a large cast-iron or other oven-proof skillet with olive oil. Pour in the pasta and sauce. Sprinkle the remaining cheese mixture over the top. Bake until the top is bubbling and golden brown, about 18 minutes. (If the sauce is bubbling but you’d like the top to be more brown and crispy, turn your oven to broil for 1-2 minutes before removing the skillet.) Top with remaining basil, if desired, and serve.
Source: Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen