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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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When the butter is melted, add the tomatoes and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes.
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Sprinkle with the sugar and the vinegar. I also added in some red pepper flakes.
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Cook 2 to 3 minutes more and set aside. (You can serve this sauce chunky or puree it in a food processor until smooth.)
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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.
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Add the remainder of the crumbs to the wells and top with more Parmesan. Bake until the tops are golden brown, about 20 minutes.
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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.
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