When I was a child Catalans always called this baked penne pasta Macarrons a la italiana, Italian-style penne, although Italians swear they have never cooked baked penne as we do!
However, it is also true that the inspiration for Macarrons al forn —Baked penne— or simply Macarrons —pronounced mac-uh-ROWNS — as they are also called, might have come from Naples, where Catalonia had a historical role centuries ago. In Naples they have a recipe named Pasta or rigatoni al forno napoletana which is similar to our delicious penne pasta recipe.
In any case, baked penne pasta is a great dish for a family with kids. Penne, Italian sausage or ground meat, grated Parmesan, and sofregit or Catalan-style tomato sauce ensure a dainty dish that our children love and surely yours will too.
Regarding ingredients and kitchen utensils
We almost always cook this dish with penne, as Catalan macarrons are very similar to Italian penne pasta, but it’s also fine to use penne rigate (I do it all the time), rigatoni or maccheroni that aren’t too small. The best results you’ll get with penne pasta or penne rigate, but our pasta liturgy isn’t as strict as among Italians! 🙂
Regarding the meat, raw Catalan pork sausage is almost impossible to find outside Catalonia, but raw Italian sausage is similar to ours and you can buy it in the USA and other countries. Another popular version is using ground meat, veal and pork meat mixed —half pork, half veal, if possible. It’s just as delicious as with sausage. Diced beef meat is another option.
You’ll need an oven-safe baking dish for the last part of the recipe, for the gratin that will make the baked penne pasta a mouthwatering dish.
Serves 6 as first course. Serves 4 as sole course.
- 400 g or 1 scant pound penne pasta or penne rigate
- 300 g or 10 ounces ground meat or uncooked pork sausage – cut into 1/2 inch or 1,5 cm pieces
- 1 medium onion — finely chopped
- 3 medium-sized, ripe tomatoes — peeled and diced or grated
- 1 large bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic — peeled and minced
- 1 teaspoon Italian parsley leaves — minced
- 2 ounces or 4 tablespoons Parmesan — grated
How to cook baked penne pasta
- Heat the olive oil in a saucepan or skillet over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onion, turn heat to low, stir for a moment and cover.
- When the onion has turned translucent, 5 to 10 minutes, add the minced garlic and parsley and stir for a minute.
- Add the tomato and about a scant half teaspoon of salt, and stir. When the sofregit tomato sauce begins to boil cover the saucepan or skillet and cook for about 10 minutes over medium-low heat. Keep an eye on the sofregit and stir from time to time. Also, you might need to turn down heat to low if you see there is too little liquid.
- Time to add the ground meat or the sausage, stir and cook covered for 20 to 25 minutes over medium-low heat stirring occasionally.
- In the meantime, bring 4 liters or 4 quarters water to a boil in a pasta cooker or large deep pot. When the water is rolling boil, add the bay leaf, 40 g or 2.5 table spoons salt and the penne pasta and cook the penne pasta until al dente or still firm when bitten. It’s very important that you don’t cook it too long because it still has to go to the oven.
- Drain the penne pasta in a colander and discard the bay leaf. Do not rinse the pasta.
- While you are cooking the pasta you can preheat the oven broiler for the gratin.
- Put the pasta in a baking dish. Pour the sofregit over the penne pasta and mix well. Top the pasta with grated Parmesan cheese and broil for a few minutes in the oven until it produces the delicious brown crust so characteristic of this baked penne pasta recipe. Remove from the oven and serve hot.