skillet baked pasta

Those folks at America's Test Kitchen are pretty smart, and they have a lot of time to get things right. Trial and error correction at its best. The idea for this recipe is a one pot meal, less cleanup, less fuss, and quick results. Unfortunately we hardly ever are in front of the TV when they broadcast their show, but this year with the financial collapse and the Big Pharma downsizing and the tanking of the economy, not even we were immune to the structural reformatting of our routine, including weekday afternoon TV time that was never before possible. Ms_ani caught this by chance and immediately saw its potential and we went into action soon after.

The first time we did this, we followed the instructions more literally for a half recipe roughly (since we were only two stomachs for this trial), using about half our half kilo De Cecco candele spezzate ("broken candles") that we hand carried back to Philly from Pescara, Italy from the company store at the nearby De Cecco headquarters, gifted to us by Fede's mom Luisa from a friend who works there.  For some time we had no idea what we would do with these large pasta tubes, "supersized ziti," a sort of size compromise between ziti and cannelloni, especially since we had some foot long candele in the cupboard for years awaiting a dream of the Napolitano pasta dish "la Genovese" that never got realized. Maybe they are still there, in which case we will have to dig them out and break them up for the next time we do this dish.

The second time we did this we realized that the remaining "half" of the candele spezzate was a bit too little for this dish, so we pulled out some Trader Giotto "trottole" (spinning tops) made by a family business in Vinci near Florence which a web search showed had recently been bought out by a large American dry pasta company, unimaginatively called American Italian Pasta Company, the largest dry pasta company in the USA, one we had never heard of even though it's listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Trottole look like long macaroni tied in a weirdly shaped knot. Perfectionists might note that mixing pasta shapes in the same boiling pot is generally not a good idea in principle because of different cooking times, but limp noodle quality for the candele/supersized ziti goes well with this recipe so no problem. Large diameter rigatoni would also work here, even cannelloni, say cut in half width-wise (too bad they don't cut well). Paccheri are a better fit if they are available: much wider diameter than rigatoni, sort of already shortened cannelloni.

Since we find it difficult not to mess with recipes once we have tried them, on our second run through we decided to do a slight amatriciana variation with some of the pancetta we had on hand. The original thought was to do an eggplant tomato sauce with the pancetta merged into the skillet recipe, but the eggplant was discolored when we opened it up so that idea got shelved and the eggplant tossed. Amatriciana sauce goes with smaller tube pasta (bucatini), and has red pepper flakes and onion, and tomatoes, and grated cheese, usually pecorino romano. So detouring a bit in that direction seemed natural.

No matter how you do the dish, this is serious comfort food. Check out the mouth watering photos. Look for the usual "Illustrations available" link at the end of the notes. Of course illustrations are available, we photograph just about every food item we make these days. Digital photography is one of the great civilization changing inventions. Okay, maybe not.


original recipe our amatriciana variation
1 T olive oil 1 T olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced 2oz pancetta (one 1/4 inch slab), chopped finely
  1 onion, chopped finely
  6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 t red pepper flakes 1/4 t red pepper flakes
1/2 t salt and freshly ground black pepper freshly ground black pepper
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes or plum tomatoes food milled
1/2 t salt 1/2 t salt
3 c water 3 c water
12 oz ziti (3.75 c) 12 oz ziti (3.75 c) or short candele or rigatoni
1/2 c heavy cream 1/2 c  half and half
1/2 c freshly grated parmigiano 1/3 c freshly grated parmigiano
  1/3 c freshly ground pecorino romano
1/4 c minced fresh basil leaves 1/4 c minced fresh basil leaves
1 c shredded mozzarella cheese 1 c shredded mozzarella cheese (low fat, cheap)


  1. Heat oven to 475° F and put rack at center level. No adjustment necessary in convection ovens (our new acquisition!).
  2. Get the pancetta and onion ready if you are doing the variation, and mince the garlic.
  3. In an oven safe skillet over medium high heat, start the pancetta and oil first, then add the onion, finally the garlic and red pepper flakes, or in the original: just sauté the garlic with the red pepper flakes and a little salt in oil. Or leave the salt till later to adjust.
  4. Add the tomatoes, water, pasta, 1/2 t salt, cover and simmer vigorously, stirring frequently to prevent sticking or burning. The idea is to cook down the liquid. About 15-18 minutes till the pasta is almost tender.
  5. Stir in the liquid dairy, grated cheeses, and basil and adjust/add the salt and pepper, and then sprinkle the grated mozzarella evenly over the top.
  6. Transfer to the oven and bake about 10 minutes until the cheese melts and browns a bit (not too much!).
  7. Pull it out and chow down!


  1. America's Test Kitchen Skillet Baked Pasta, which a search turned up at a public site.
  2. America's Test Kitchen. We went to a local book signing event by their Italian specialist Jack Bishop, who learned the Italian business from his Italian grandmother. We had already bought his vegetarian Italian cook book, so could not believe our good luck that he to our own backyard. He gave a really good talk about what goes on at the Test Kitchen. Too bad Boston is out of our reach. They have occasional tours open to the public.
  3. "La Genovese" is a Napolitano meat-onion pasta sauce traditionally served with the giant candle pasta. A pot roast smothered with twice its weight in onions is cooked down until it is a tender sauce that bob ate with friends once in Naples, leaving a lasting memory that someday will be repeated. We bought "Naples at Table" by Arthur Schwartz just for the story of this recipe, and the recipe of course. One day perhaps.
  4. The trottole were produced by an old family business of the Lensi family in Vinci, Italy, the town that produced Leonardo "da Vinci" ("from Vinci"). Not credited by Trader Giotto (Trader Joe's fake Italian brand).
  5. We took a 3 hour bus from Rome to Pescara Sunday morning at 7am in July just to spend the day at the beach with Fede and friends. Her parents returned from the weekend at their country-mountain village second home at 3pm, at which point Luisa the mom went to work making Sunday dinner for us. She only had a few hours to throw some things together, she said apologetically, but what came to the table was reminiscent of Babette's Feast. A meal that finished us all off before we could even touch the last main course (fish), although somehow we managed to slog on to survive the multiple desserts anyway. Another incredible meal we will never forget. Thanks, Luisa!
  6. Fall 2008, Big Pharma was already cutting before the financial bubble burst, taking down the real economy with it. America again shows its true colors. But will it figure out how to survive this nasty roadblock? A little real Christian brotherly love would not be out of order after all this crap from the religious right we've been taking for decades.
  7. With the halving of our income, we compared prices of the pre-shredded mozzarella and the higher quality ball and went for the cheaper former choice. Nothing like a little reminder of how most people have to be smart shoppers. We've been living in our own little Main Line DINK bubble for some time. Now we're just suburban SINKs. [Double/Single IncomeNoKids.]
  8. Illustrations available.
skltpsta.htm: 6-mar-2009 [what, ME cook? © 1984 dr bob enterprises]