You’d think I would have tried every possible variety of pasta recipe by now, but no—in fact, despite having 73 already logged here, my eye has been roving lately. I’ve stumbled across several new additions to my collection, and this concoction from Smitten Kitchen is the best of them. It may sound crazy to consider making baked pasta in the summer, and sure, I wouldn’t tackle this in the midst of a heat wave, but when the first zucchini start to appear in the spring or you’re still trying to use up the last of your bumper crop in September (or if you’re lucky enough to have air conditioning in the dog days), this is just the thing to satisfy a craving for warm, chewy cheesiness while still keeping things on the lighter, brighter, fresher side with a two-to-one ratio of squash to pasta and a lemony, herb-speckled béchamel. I was surprised how big the flavors were (zucchini and pasta in white sauce might easily add up to bland + bland + bland), and how much I was reminded of mac and cheese—but peppier.
The recipe involves a bit of prep work but not as much as I feared, especially if you have a skillet that can go right from stovetop to oven (I used my enameled cast-iron workhorse). I’d be tempted to double it next time, especially since the recipe notes that it freezes well. I had a bunch of basil to use up, so I sprinkled some over the top before serving, and was definitely not sorry. I made this while A was out of town, scarfed down all four servings during the course of a week, and missed it when it was gone. As soon as the heat dies down, I’ll fire up my oven and make it again…and maybe share it this time, although the chef retains the prerogative to scrape all the crusty toasted cheesy bits from the bottom of the baking pan directly into her mouth.
8 ounces pasta (rotini or other small, curly shape)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound mixed summer squash, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
Juice of half a lemon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 large or 5 skinny scallions, sliced thin, white/pale green parts and dark green tops in separate piles
Pinches of red pepper flakes, to taste
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1½ cups milk
¼ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
1 tablespoon finely chopped mixed herbs of your choice (I used thyme and basil)
Salt and more pepper to taste
¾ cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
4 ounces mozzarella, cut into small cubes
- Bring a medium-large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until just al dente. Drain and set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Heat a large skillet (oven-safe if you have it) over medium-high heat. Add olive oil, and let it heat until almost smoking. Add sliced squash, season with salt and red pepper flakes, and let it sear underneath, unmoved, until golden brown. Continue to sauté until browned and somewhat wilted, about 10 minutes, trying to get some color on each layer before moving it around. Transfer to a bowl and squeeze lemon juice over it. Add more salt or pepper if needed.
- Reheat the same skillet over medium heat and melt the butter in it. Add the scallion white and pale green parts and garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes. Add flour and stir until it all has been dampened and absorbed. Add milk, a very small splash at a time, stirring constantly with a spoon. Make sure each splash has been fully incorporated into the mixture, scraping from the bottom of the pan and all around, before adding the next splash. Repeat until all milk has been added, then add lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste. Let mixture simmer for 2 minutes, stirring frequently; the sauce will thicken. Remove pan from heat and stir in half of chopped parsley, all of mixed herbs and reserved scallion greens. Adjust seasoning to taste.
- Off the heat, add drained pasta, summer squash, ½ cup grated Parmesan and all of the mozzarella to the pot, stirring to combine. If your skillet is not oven-safe, transfer mixture to a 2- to 3-quart baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining ¼ cup Parmesan.
- Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until edges of pasta are golden brown. Sprinkle with reserved parsley (I also added some fresh basil) and serve hot. Reheat as needed.
Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Good. To freeze, let dish fully cool to room temperature, then transfer, wrapped well, to the freezer. Let defrost in fridge for a day before rewarming in oven to rewarm at 300 to 325 degrees with the foil on, then finish it for the last 10 minutes or so at a higher heat without the foil.