My hubby is always excited when I have fancy presentations for dinner. It makes dinners more special instead of the same ole same side dishes. This one is a little more effort, but the nice part is you can make it all in advance. After we had this for dinner, I ended up pureeing the sauce more since I’m not a chunky tomato fan, but overall it was pretty tasty.
Penne Pasta Gratins
(Adapted from Savory Bites, Meals You Can Make in Your Cupcake Pan by Hollis Wilder)
For the pasta
1 16 ounce package penne pasta
1 quart chicken broth, chilled
1 1/2 cups half and half
1/3 cup crumbled feta
1 cup grated Gruyere
3/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
1/2 cup grated smoked Gouda
1/2 cup grated provolone
Freshly ground black pepper
In a medium stockpot over medium heat, combine the pasta and the cold chicken broth and cook slowly for about 12 minutes, until half of the liquid has cooked down.
Turn off the heat. Add the half-and-half, feta Gruyere, Parmesan, Gouda, provolone, and a few grinds of black pepper. Stir to combine; taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
For the bread crumb topping
2 tablespoons salted butter
2 cups panko bread crumbs
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
Melt the butter in a small skillet over low heat. Add the bread crumbs and sage. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring until the butter has combined with the crumbs. (Do not brown.) Turn off the heat.
For the fried sage (I left this out)
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 whole sage leaves
Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. To test the temperature, drop a bread crumb into the oil, if it sizzles then the oil is hot enough. Add the sage leaves, a couple at a time. Fry for about 20 seconds, until they are crisp but still green. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the leaves to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Set aside.
For the tomato sauce
1 tablespoon salted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 pints cherry tomatoes
1 small clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
nonstick cooking spray, for the pan
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the butter and olive oil.
When the butter is melted, add the tomatoes and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
Sprinkle with the sugar and the vinegar. I also added in some red pepper flakes.
Cook 2 to 3 minutes more and set aside. (You can serve this sauce chunky or puree it in a food processor until smooth.)
Assemble and bake the gratins
Spray a 12-well classic cupcake pan with nonstick cooking spray. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the bread crumb topping in the base of each well, then divide the pasta and cheese mixture among the wells.
Add the remainder of the crumbs to the wells and top with more Parmesan. Bake until the tops are golden brown, about 20 minutes.
Loosen the sides of each gratin using a table knife and insert the tines of a fork between the pan and each gratin to lift it out. Serve the gratins individually in a pool of the tomato sauce. Garnish each with a fried sage leaf. Store the gratins in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to three days. Reheat at 350 degrees F.