- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Al forno means “oven-baked” in Italian, and that’s one of the wonderful features of today’s recipe. The vegetables are

cooked in a roasting pan in the oven and cooked pasta is added directly to the pan.

Cover the pan, return it to the oven and bring to the table when done. It’s a great make-after-work supper, and the cleanup is minimal. It also tastes good at room temperature, so you can make it ahead of time, if you wish.

This dish is good on its own, but it is even more wonderful with thick, sweet-tart balsamic drizzle made by reducing balsamic vinegar. Balsamic vinegar makes a wonderful syrup when cooked down to about one third its original volume.

You can drizzle this amazing stuff over more foods than you’d ever imagine, everything from roasted vegetables and bean soups to potato dishes and pizzas.

It’s even great on pancakes, fruit and frozen desserts. This might just be the most versatile one-ingredient sauce ever.

Rigatoni al forno with roasted asparagus and onions

Salt

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

3 cups onion, chopped in large chunks

3/4 pound rigatoni or penne (see note)

1 pound asparagus, cut into 2-inch pieces

3 to 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for the top

½ cup bread crumbs

Extra balsamic vinegar or balsamic drizzle (recipe follows)

Place a large pot of salted water, covered, over high heat. Pour oil into a 9-by-13-inch baking pan, preferably glass. Break up onion pieces with your hands, add them to the oil and stir them around a little so they get coated. Place uncovered pan in preheated 375-degree oven.

When water reaches a rapid boil, add pasta and let it begin cooking while you continue roasting the vegetables. After onions have been in oven for about 5 minutes, stir in asparagus and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt.

Spread everything out in a single layer, return pan to oven and roast 5 minutes longer.

Drain pasta as soon as it is al dente and stir into pan containing onion and asparagus. Add vinegar, black pepper and Parmesan, and mix well. Sprinkle bread crumbs over top and return to oven.

Bake, uncovered, for 10 to 15 minutes, or until bread crumbs are brown and crisp. Serve hot and pass around the pepper mill, extra Parmesan and a cruet of additional balsamic vinegar, or a bowl of balsamic drizzle with a small spoon. Makes about 4 servings.

Note: Pasta can also be cooked a day or two in advance, lightly oiled and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

BALSAMIC DRIZZLE

Ordinary, moderately priced supermarket balsamic works best here.

1 cup balsamic vinegar

Place vinegar in a small saucepan and heat to boiling. (You might want to open your kitchen windows since this results in strong fumes.) Turn heat way down and simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, or until vinegar is reduced by about two thirds.

Store balsamic drizzle in a tightly covered container in the refrigerator or at room temperature. It if becomes too thick as it sits around, you can liquefy it up by zapping it briefly in a microwave. Theoretically it will keep forever, but undoubtedly you will use it up sooner than that. Makes ½ cup but is easily multiplied.

TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

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