Can we agree that there never is enough crispy topping on the baked pasta gratin? Didn’t we just discuss this? Yes. I’ll keep this brief. Without a bread crumb topping, this sheet pan pasta gratin comes together even faster than the mac n’ cheese, and the addition of chopped raw kale not only provides some tasty roughage but also bolsters the crispness effect — think: kale chip meets gratin edge.
Like the mac n’ cheese, the elements in this gratin include a light béchamel made with equal parts milk and water, two cheeses, and parboiled pasta, something like penne or campanelle, whose fluted, petal-like edges brown up so beautifully.
The rest is up to you. In the spirit of Meatless Mondays, I refrained from adding hot Italian sausage, but sausage or crisped pancetta or bacon would be nice here. Greens like kale and chard don’t need to be cooked — just chop them up and toss them with the pasta and béchamel. Peppers, onions, mushrooms benefit from a quick sauté, and vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower should be blanched beforehand. Throw in whatever you have on hand. Just remember: the world is your sheet pan. Or something like that.
As noted in the post, this recipe can be adapted to your liking. Shapes like penne are more traditional but campanelle, which means “bellflowers” in Italian, has fluted, petal-like edges which crisp up nicely in the oven and look pretty. Any shape, however, will work just fine. You can use Pecorino or Grana Padano in place of the Parmigiano Reggiano. For the second cheese, I love to use mozzarella or Fontina, but something like Gruyère or Comte would work well, too. And as for fillings, add what you like. I love the simplicity of raw greens and maybe a little browned sausage, but use what you have on hand.
- 3/4 pound pasta, penne or campanelle or anything you like
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup flour
- 2 cups milk (2% or whole)
- 2 cups water
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- about 8 oz kale or Swiss chard, stems removed
- 1 1/2 cups (4 ounces) Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
- a scant cup (6 oz) fontina or fresh mozzarella, diced into small cubes
- Preheat oven to 425°F.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of kosher salt. Boil pasta for 2 minutes less than the box’s suggested al dente time. (For example, my campanelle box said ‘al dente perfection’ in 10 to 11 minutes. I boiled mine for 8.) Drain. Do not rinse. Set aside.
- Meanwhile, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over medium-high heat in a medium saucepan. Add flour, whisking constantly for about a minute. Add milk and water, whisking to remove any of the flour-butter mixture from bottom of pan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and gently simmer. Add 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt and pepper to taste. Simmer until mixture begins to thicken, about 20 minutes. Note: the mixture will not get super thick, but it will coat the back of a spoon, and if you run your finger through the coating, the trail should stay — see photo. Remove from the heat.
- Meanwhile, chop the kale or chard into small pieces. In a large mixing bowl, toss pasta with bechamel and grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Fold in chopped kale.
- Line a rimmed sheet pan with a sheet of parchment paper. Spread macaroni mixture over top. Distribute mozzarella or fontina cubes over top.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, checking after 10 minutes or so. (Note: If it looks too brown after 10-15 minutes, reduce oven to 400ºF for the remainder of the cooking time.) The gratin should be bubbling and golden at the edges. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.