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This hearty rigatoni is a luxurious affair

  • PHOTO COURTESY NEW YORK TIMES

This main course is a baked pasta with two kinds of cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower and broccoli raab. For me, that’s a thrill. You may get more oohs and ahs if you call it rigatoni al forno. But please humor me, and don’t call it a “pasta bake.”

The vegetables may be humble, but the resulting dish is a luxurious affair, with two sauces. First, a creamy white béchamel sauce is employed to toss with the pasta and vegetables. The dish gets a generous showering of grated cheese before it heads to the oven. It emerges, bubbly and bronzed and crisp on top, and finally, a bright, light tomato sauce adorns each serving.

Putting it together is somewhat like committing to building a lasagna — a little fussy, a lot of components — but once assembled, your labor is well worth the reward. No, it’s not a 30-minute kitchen session. But you can — and should — assemble it all in advance, then pop it in the oven when you please. Consider it a clever way to prepare dinner during the day, so all the work is out of the way when you’d normally be in the kitchen.

Rigatoni Al Forno With Cauliflower and Broccoli Raab

Ingredients for the béchamel:

• 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

• 3 cups whole milk, or use half-and-half for a richer sauce

Kosher salt and black pepper

• 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg, or to taste

• 1 small bay leaf

Ingredients for the tomato sauce:

• 3 cups canned tomatoes, whole or crushed tomatoes (from a 28-ounce can)

• 1 1/2 cups onion, any kind, chopped

• 3 garlic cloves, minced

• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

• 1 bay leaf or a few basil leaves

Kosher salt

Ingredients for the pasta:

Kosher salt

• 1 pound rigatoni

• 1 medium cauliflower, chopped (about 3 cups)

• 1 bunch broccoli raab, chopped (about 3 cups)

• 3 garlic cloves, minced

• 2 teaspoons rosemary, finely chopped

• 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Black pepper

• 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan

• 1 cup grated provolone (about 3 ounces), plus more for serving

• 1 cup grated Pecorino Romano (about 3 ounces), plus more for serving

Directions:

Make the béchamel: Put the olive oil and flour in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and whisk together. Let mixture sizzle without browning for 1 minute. Whisk in milk 1 cup at a time, letting it come up to a simmer and begin to thicken before adding the next cup. Repeat until all the milk has been added.

When the sauce has thickened to the consistency of a milkshake, turn heat to low. Add 1 teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Add the nutmeg and bay leaf, and cook for 10 minutes, whisking occasionally. Check seasoning and adjust. Turn off heat and keep sauce warm.

Make the tomato sauce: In a small saucepan, put tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil, bay leaf or basil, and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer mixture to a blender (remove bay leaf before blending but leave in basil, if using). Purée to a velvety consistency and return to the saucepan. Taste and adjust seasoning. Keep sauce warm, or let cool and reheat before serving.

Make the pasta: Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the rigatoni and cook until nearly done, about 2 minutes less than package directions, leaving the pasta still quite firm. Lift pasta from the water with a spider or large strainer, and spread it out on a baking sheet to cool.

Add cauliflower to pot and cook until barely softened, 1 minute. Lift from the water with a spider or large strainer and spread out to cool on a baking sheet.

Add the broccoli raab and cook until just wilted, 1 minute, then drain in a colander. Rinse with cool water, then squeeze into a ball.

Put cauliflower and broccoli raab into the empty pasta pot. Add garlic, rosemary and red pepper flakes, and stir together. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil.

Add the béchamel and the rigatoni. Mix well with the cauliflower and broccoli raab. Add the provolone and Pecorino Romano, and mix well again.

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Pile the pasta mixture into an oiled 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Bake until nicely browned and crisp on top, about 40 minutes. Leave to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

To serve, put a large spoonful of pasta into individual bowls or plates, making sure each portion has some of the crisp top. Spoon some tomato sauce around each portion and sprinkle with more grated cheese.

Total time: 1 1/2 hours, serves 6.

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