Creamy pasta bakes always have my heart, but creamy pasta bakes with balsamic-scented caramelised onions and goat’s cheese have my heart even more.
I’m going to awfully date myself right now, but this is something I imagine Amélie Poulain would whip up in her tiny Paris apartment. For a romantic night in, maybe? I wonder if they’d regret all the onions and garlic a bit later on, ha!
I have definitely never regretted eating onions or garlic, because their pungent flavours are too good to shun. Plus, together with the goat’s cheese they add so much to this vegetarian pasta bake, you’re absolutely not going to miss the meat. I make my own balsamic caramelised onions, but if you want to be extra lazy (no shame in that), feel free to use your favourite onion jam from the shops. Otherwise, it’s a very straightforward recipe you can whip up any night of the week.
To some tunes, of course… 🎶
Which record would Amélie put on for a night like that? I think she’s definitely into Georges Moustaki. I mean, who’s not into this smokey, rugged voice? Tom Waits in French. You’re welcome.
Now let’s caramelise some onions:
There’s something absolutely magical about the transformation of a pile of biting raw onions into such a sweet and mellow thing of beauty.
Properly caramelising onions can take an awfully long time, but I use a few tricks to make a cheat’s version:
- add a little brown sugar to help with the caramel flavour
- add a pinch of bicarb to help with the Maillard reaction (sorry just throwing around fan-cay words to make myself sound so very smart; it’s actually just what happens when you brown and caramelise something)
- slice the onions very thinly to help them cook faster
- cook the onions in a ridiculously large pan so they aren’t piled up
- stir in some balsamic vinegar right at the end to help with colour and flavour
- drink a glass of wine while waiting
Granted, that last one is entirely optional and adds exactly nothing to the actual recipe. But it’s still nice 😉
Once the onions are done (it only takes 10 minutes), I put them in a small bowl and continue with the pasta in the same pan, and please do not wipe it – keep all of that extra flavour!
Next the sauce and pasta… Which cook together in one pan!
That’s right, we have a one pot pasta situation right here.
If there’s something I really dislike about pasta bakes (and other bakes as well, to be fair)… It’s all the individual bits and bobs needed to be assembled: A pasta to be cooked, a sauce to be made, veg/meat/other additions to be prepped. So I cook everything into a single pan, and the pasta right in the sauce. Pasta bake, consider yourself hacked.
Which is why, I beg you, do not pre-cook the pasta! It really does go in completely dry. I start the sauce with a small roux for extra creaminess, then the pasta simmers right in there and soaks up so much additional flavour.
Oh, just a word on the liquid used for this: I use vegetable stock and milk. Now, if you wanted to avoid the cow’s milk, you could just use all stock. The bake gets a bit less creamy (and you might want to double up on the goat’s cheese to make up for it), but still incredibly good.
Whatever you’re going to use, it will cook into a lush sauce, then it gets even creamier with the help of some goat’s cheese and grated Pecorino. Fear not if you cannot get any Pecorino – not everybody can just wave their wand and Accio themselves some in. Use Parmesan, or a vegetarian Parmesan if needed.
Finally finish and bake…
Put the finished pasta into an oven proof dish, dot with the balsamic caramelised onions (or the shop-bought onion jam if you’re feeling idle today), some extra cheese… And bake to bubbly perfection.
You’ll probably have to actively keep yourself from eating too much pasta before it ever hits the oven, but don’t you worry: I only bake this one for 15-20 minutes (closer to 30 if you choose to make it ahead and refrigerate it for up to 2 days at this stage).
That’s plenty of time to get everything hot and bubbly, otherwise the pasta will start drinking up all the extra sauce, and you’ll be left with dramatically overcooked once-ressembled-an-Italian-import in dry sauce (yes, dry sauce – it’s the technical term, indeed).
Et comment serves-tu ce joli repas?
Ah, pardon my French. How do you serve this lovely meal? Well, with some greens, of course. I love this pasta bake with a pile of rocket leaves very lightly dressed in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt.
Baby spinach would be wonderful, too, or baby beet greens. Whatever you pick, make it something that doesn’t add more than 3 minutes of extra work. Because if you’re anything like me? You will not bother and let it sit in the back of the fridge until you find the mystery man you’ve been hunting all around Paris. And I promise, it will be too late for your veg at that point.
Caramelised Onion and Goat’s Cheese Pasta Bake
For the balsamic onions:
- 25 g butter (1 1/2 tablespoons)
- 4 large onions (peeled, halved and very thinly sliced)
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon bicarb of soda
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
For the pasta:
- 25 g unsalted butter (1 1/2 tablespoons)
- 20 g plain flour (1 heaping tablespoon)
- 100 ml dry white wine (3 1/2oz)
- 500 ml stock (plus more as needed; 2 cups)
- 500 ml whole milk (plus more as needed; 2 cups)
- 360 g dried pasta (12oz)
- a few sprigs fresh thyme (leaves only)
- 100 g fresh goat’s cheese (3 1/2oz)
- 100 g grated pecorino cheese (3 1/2oz)
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard (I used a whole grain variety)
- Grated pecorino cheese
Make the caramelised onions:
- Melt 25g butter in a wide pan over medium heat. Add onions and sprinkle evenly with sugar, salt and bicarb. Cook for 1-2 minutes, stirring often.
- Cover the pan with a lid and reduce the heat to medium-low. Sweat the onions for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice.
- Stir the balsamic vinegar into the onions and ccok for one more minute. Check for seasoning and add more salt if needed, then remove onions to a small bowl.
Make the pasta:
- In the same pan (don't wipe it!), melt another 25g of butter over medium heat. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minutes, constantly stirring.
- Next, stir in the white wine, scratching any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Let the wine simmer until it has almost all cooked away, then whisk in the stock and milk until smooth and no more floury lumps remain.
- Stir the dry pasta and thyme leaves into the milk mixture, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook until pasta is just al-dente. There should be plenty of creamy sauce at this point. If the pasta seems too dry/the sauce too thick (this can depend a LOT on your exact brand of pasta used!), add up to 200ml more milk or stock as needed.
Assemble the bake:
- While the pasta is cooking, heat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Once the pasta is finished, stir in the goat's cheese, grated pecorino and mustard. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Transfer it to an approximately 2 liter (2 quart) baking dish. Dot with the caramelised onion, then sprinkle generously with extra grated cheese.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until bubbly. Serve right away with a side of salad greens lightly dressed in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, if you like.