We turned this side dish into a full meal by layering fresh tomatoes (grown hydroponically locally) with whole wheat pasta and a creamy cheese sauce. We topped it off with bread crumbs and feta cheese, then baked it in the oven until golden brown.
The tomatoes not only added great freshness to this dish, but also added moisture, which is often missing in baked macaroni and cheeses. We used a mild cheese for the sauce, so using feta on top added a nice tang to the dish. Feel free though to use any cheese you like or have on hand.
Enjoy this dish as a comforting dinner if tomatoes aren't quite ready in your area. Once tomatoes are readily available, check out Giving Table for Bittman's original recipe.
Baked Penne with Cheese and Tomatoes
1 lb whole wheat penne, cooked al dente
2 tbs butter
2 tbs whole wheat flour
1 cup milk
1 cup shredded cheese (any will work)
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs (freshly made are best)
1/2 cup feta cheese, diced
Preheat oven to 450*F.
Melt butter over medium heat, then add flour and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often. Add milk and stir until no lumps remain and sauce begins to thicken. Remove from heat and stir in shredded cheese and garlic until just melted.
Add cooked pasta and stir until well combined. Season with salt and pepper.
Meanwhile, combine breadcrumbs and feta and slice tomatoes.
Spray oven-proof dishes with olive oil and spread a layer of pasta on the bottom. Spread a layer of tomatoes on top, then another layer of pasta, and another layer of tomatoes. Sprinkle breadcrumb and feta mixture on top and drizzle with olive oil. (At this point you can refrigerate or freeze the dish.)
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until bread crumbs are golden brown. Top with basil and serve immediately. Serves 4.