Welcome to the new Italian Easy on Serious Eats! I'm Deborah Mele, and I'm thrilled to have been asked to be a regular contributor here at Serious Eats. I created my Italian recipe blog Italian Food Forever twelve years ago after my family returned from living in Milan, Italy for almost a decade. It was during our years in Italy that I became extremely passionate about Italian cuisine and learned to keep "an Italian kitchen". I focus on casual, home-style Italian cooking, and I love teaching cooks at every level that superb Italian food needn't be time consuming or overly complex. The essence of Italian cooking is simplicity. Use the freshest seasonal ingredients possible, then use basic cooking techniques only to enhance the natural flavor of the food.
I am now fortunate enough to live in North America six months a year, and Umbria, Italy, the other six months where we run a vacation house for guests, Il Casale di Mele, I cater meals, and give Umbrian cooking classes in my farmhouse kitchen. Whether I am in North America, or Italy, I find it exceptionally easy to continue these basic principles of creating honest, full flavored Italian dishes with minimal effort simply by using good quality, seasonal ingredients.
I will be sharing my favorite Italian Easy recipes with you twice a month, choosing recipes that I personally love and make in my own kitchen. Many recipes will be seasonal, others will be regional specialties, and some will simply be traditional Italian favorites, but my goal is to choose appetizing recipes that do not require hours in the kitchen and include easy to find ingredients. I hope you join me here with each installment of Italian Easy and learn to love Italian cuisine as much as I do!
"But for me, baked pasta is true Italian comfort food."
I've never met a bowl of pasta I didn't like. I love pasta of every shape and description, and enjoy the endless combinations of recipes you can create with different sauces and types of pasta. But for me, baked pasta is true Italian comfort food. Whether it is a dish of lasagna combining layers of tender sheets of homemade egg noodles and a rich meaty sauce, or a simple, easy to assemble casserole like this one, there isn't anything more pleasing to the palate than a bowl of rustic baked pasta.
Baked pasta is also a terrific idea for busy families or for entertaining as well, because you can get all the preparation completed ahead of time, and simply pop the dish into the oven just before dining. When making a baked pasta casserole dish such as this one, I always cook the pasta two to three minutes less than the recommended cooking time before assembling the ingredients for the oven as the pasta will continue to cook as it bakes, and you do not want mushy pasta.
You've probably seen mascarpone most commonly used in Tiramisu, but it works just as well in pasta sauces. It has an amazingly creamy texture that stays silky smooth when you heat it. Mascarpone is an Italian cheese quite similar to ricotta cheese. While ricotta is made by coagulating whey with acid and collecting the curds, mascarpone does the same with heavy cream in place of the whey, which creates a luscious, rich, creamy cheese.
Although not light in calories, a little mascarpone goes a long way in some of my savory dishes. It doesn't break down very easily in the cooking process, which makes it easy to create a creamy sauce without fear of greasiness or curdling.
This hearty dish, made with sausage and mushrooms bound with mascarpone and baked under a cheesy, crisp bread crumb crust is elegant enough for guests, but is so easy to prepare that it would also be a terrific option for a mid-week family meal. Add some crusty Italian bread and a mixed green salad and dinner is complete.