Al Forno Conchiglie
I should give you a Valentine’s Day dish, shouldn’t I? If you’re here, maybe you don’t have a reservation, don’t want to deal with prix fixes and crowds and ersatz romance. Staying in is much better. Later this week, I’ll be posting about complicated dishes that you might want to fuss over with your beloved(s), which is what Alex and I did the first year we spent the weird, high-expectation day together as a couple. Since then, we’ve been going out to eat good pizza with friends, but this year that tradition got pushed to the 13th, and so the 14th is, once more, open for something. Ignoring the holiday, maybe? No, we actually do have a plan, but it’s kind of goofy so I’m going to keep it to myself.
But if you need a Friday night recipe, one that you don’t mind making after a workday but that still delivers the spark of a weekend evening, one that’s rich and satisfying, and–I’m sorry to admit that I’ve thought about this–pinkish in hue, then look no further. Al forno conchiglie is a recipe that’s been in the BGSK archives for a long time. It involves just-less-than-al-dente pasta, handfuls of cheese, a bit of tomato sauce, and a lot of cream. Invented at Al Forno in Providence, RI, the casserole travels beautifully to the home kitchen. The finished pan is a source of surprise and awe, every time, because the crispy-edged top that emerges bears so little resemblance to the mess that went in the oven just 10 minutes before.
Whether you dig into this surprise in front of bad TV as on any other Friday night, or beside flickering candles, I think you’ll find this a dish worth loving, a marriage of mac ‘n cheese and baked ziti that’s hard to resist.
Of course, if you don’t want to waddle to bed after eating, consider serving the dish with a salad.
Conchiglie with Five Cheeses
Makes 6 servings
1 pound conchiglie rigate (shells)
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup diced tomatoes (from one 14-ounce can)
1/3 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano, plus extra for garnish (1 1/2 ounces)
½ cup coarsely fontina cheese, coarsely grated (1 1/2 ounces)
¼ cup crumbled gorgonzola (1 1/2 ounces)
½ teaspoon salt, plus more for the pasta
6 basil leaves, chopped
¼ cup thinly sliced scallions for garnish
Preheat the oven to 500°F.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Salt well, add the pasta, and cook for 5 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the cream, tomatoes, cheeses (except the extra for garnish), salt, and basil. Add the drained pasta and toss to coat in the cheesy sauce.
Spread pasta mixture evenly in a large casserole or baking dish. (The thinner the layer of pasta, the more crispy bits you’ll get on the top.) Bake for 7 to 10 minutes, until the top is browned and the bottom layer of pasta is tender.
Garnish with scallions and remaining pecorino and serve immediately.
Photos by Carly Diaz