With three cheeses, nutmeg, golden breadcrumbs, and seasonal pumpkin, this creamy rigatoni bake is elegant enough to impress your guests, but ideal for assembling in advance of a potluck or group supper. To kick it up a (cheffy) knotch, we’re topping the pasta with fried sage. Sound daunting? Not so. We teach a simple technique for frying the leaves, then save the resulting sage oil for the super-aromatic sauce.
⅛ ounce sage
1 red onion
2 cloves garlic
½ ounce grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon flour
8 ounces rigatoni
16 ounces milk
½ cup pumpkin purée
2 ounces shredded Fontina cheese
3 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
1 aluminum tin
10″ large pot
10″ medium pan
Partially cooking the rigatoni in boiling water, or parboiling, ensures it’ll cook through completely and evenly when baked.
Olive oil helps the breadcrumbs turn golden, and keeps them from drying out, or worse, burning.
Preheat oven to 450ºF. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Pick sage leaves, discarding stems. Peel onion, halve, and thinly slice. Mince garlic. Add Parmesan to bag with breadcrumbs and shake to combine, then set aside until Step 6. Reshape aluminum tin, if bent.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat. When oil is shimmering, add 1 sage leaf to pan. If it sizzles immediately, keep going; if not, try again once the oil is hotter. Fry remaining sage until slightly crisp, 1-2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sage to a paper towel-lined plate to drain, leaving sage oil behind in pan for the next step.
Return pan with sage oil to medium-high heat and add butter. When butter is foamy, add onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, 5-7 minutes (skip ahead to Step 4—but don’t forget to come back!). Then, season with ¼ teaspoon salt and black pepper as desired. Add spice mix and garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Reduce heat under pan to medium, then add flour and stir to combine.
While onion cooks, season boiling water generously with salt. Stir in rigatoni and cook until almost al dente, about 8 minutes (see Recipe Tip). Use any downtime while the pasta cooks to set the table. Once rigatoni is parboiled, reserve ½ cup pasta cooking water, then drain and set aside.
Add 1½ cups milk (see Recipe Tip) to pan with onion and flour. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium and add pumpkin purée, ¼ teaspoon salt, and black pepper. Cook, stirring, until slightly thickened, 2-3 minutes. Remove pan from heat, then stir in Fontina and mozzarella to melt. Add rigatoni and toss to coat with sauce. Adding 1 tablespoon at a time, stir in reserved pasta water until sauce is silky and clings to noodles.
Taste creamy pumpkin rigatoni and add salt and black pepper as desired. Transfer to tin and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle over Parmesan breadcrumbs and drizzle with olive oil (see Recipe Tip). Bake until breadcrumbs are golden, 5-7 minutes. Divide between serving plates, garnish with fried sage, and dig in!
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