What I did with the tomato sauce

tomatoes/photo by Flickr user Chiot's Run used under a Creative Commons license

Yesterday I talked about deputizing Jay to make a vat of tomato sauce while I was at work. Now I’m going to talk about what I did with the sauce. I am not going to talk about how Jay confessed to adding “a pinch” of sugar to the sauce, because I’m trying to forget that even happened. The sauce was good, I’m just not a sugar-in-sauce person.

Our favorite local Italian restaurant, Bella Italia in Tyngsboro, could almost fit in on Long Island–if they added a pizza place in front and made the decor a bit flashier. The food is straightforward and very good (the owner is actually FROM ITALY!), the menu is comprehensive (they have vodka sauce, which is harder to find than it should be in Greater Boston), and they play great schlocky Italian pop music.

Last Saturday we went to Bella Italia for a late lunch, and I tried a new-to-me dish, penne al cartoccio: penne with tomato sauce, topped with cheese, baked in parchment paper. It was as simple and tasty as it sounds, with nice melty cheese and the melding of flavors you get from baking. Jay doesn’t usually love baked pasta dishes because they can get a little dried out, and parchment paper solves that problem by keeping the moisture in (note to self: cover baked ziti in foil next time!).

At Jay’s request, I decided to recreate it at home last night. I did a bit of research (OK, googling), and most recipes I found for pasta al cartoccio involved spaghetti and some kind of seafood. Since I liked what we had at Bella Italia, I struck out on my own and made that. Amounts are more approximate than usual, but this is not a dish that demands great precision. If you have the sauce made already, it’s a very quick weeknight meal that should only take about 30 minutes including cooking time.

Pasta al Cartoccio (Pasta in Parchment)

most of a recipe of basic tomato sauce, with chopped parsley stirred in (probably about four cups of sauce? I don’t know.)
1 box pasta
a few handfuls of grated mozzarella cheese (fine to use the kind that comes in a bag at the supermarket)
parchment paper

Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water until it is just al dente. Drain and put back in the pot.

Spoon in sauce and stir to combine until the pasta looks extra saucy. Probably saucier than you would usually like. I used about 3/4 of the sauce I had on hand, I think.

Cut 15″ by 15″ or so squares of parchment paper. Spoon about a quarter, maybe less, of the pasta onto each one.*

Top with as much cheese as you like and seal the packages, leaving some room for the cheese to melt without sticking to the paper.**

Put the packages on a baking sheet–use two sheets for four packages, and I always prefer baking sheets with sides to confine potential messes with projects like this–and bake for 20 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

Remove the sheets from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Cut open the packets and serve.

*You can absolutely fudge the quantities. I only baked half of the pasta I cooked and sauced, and each of my packets had two servings of pasta in it. The rest of the pasta is in the fridge and could easily be baked for lunch over the weekend.

**I love cooking with parchment paper but am always flummoxed at trying to seal the little packages. Twine is a pain in the butt, and I can’t get the parchment to stay in place if I just fold it. Jay came to the rescue in his Engineering Man role and stapled the packages closed. It worked just fine.


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