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Farmers' pasta is our family's Christmas Eve tradition. Break it out whenever you need a make-ahead vegetarian meal to please a crowd.
Why we love this recipe
For as long as I can remember, farmers' pasta has been our Christmas Eve tradition. I don't remember how the tradition started, but I definitely know why it's stuck around. It's:
- A rich, cozy, vegetarian meal for a crowd
- Pleasantly rustic, but still a little nuanced and special
- 100% prep-ahead friendly
- A beautiful match for a simple green salad and a good bottle of wine
- Easy to combine with other elements of a bigger meal — see the FAQ section below for suggestions
After making this recipe at least annually starting way back in 2005, I first published it here, adapted from Giada de Laurentiis, in 2012. At the time we were living in London and eating mostly plant-based. If you're a fan of old-school blog narrative, you can scroll down below the recipe card to read some of the original text.
What you'll need
Here's a glance at the ingredients you'll need to make this recipe.
- For the pasta, use either rigatoni or penne regate. The ridges help the sauce cling to the macaroni. You'll boil it until just shy of al dente and let it finish cooking in the sauce.
- Olive oil, all-purpose flour, plenty of garlic, and whole milk make a creamy and flavorful Italian-inspired béchamel sauce.
- A flavorful combination of cheeses — provolone, fontina, fresh mozzarella, and parmesan — adds just the right balance of savoriness and richness. If you need this dish to be vegetarian, be sure to buy a vegetarian brand of each cheese. It's okay to swap in different cheeses if you have trouble finding any of them or just want to change things up a bit. See the FAQ section below for ideas.
- Minced basil and parsley add some freshness to the dish.
How to make it
Here's an overview of what you'll do to make a crowd-pleasing farmers' pasta. You can see all the steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get the details in the recipe card below.
- First you'll make a beautiful, garlicky béchamel sauce.
- Then you'll add a borderline unreasonable amount of cheese and plenty of fresh herbs.
- You'll boil some rigatoni or penne rigate until it's a few minutes shy of al dente, then drain and mix into the cheese sauce.
- Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and parmesan and bake until hot and bubbly. That's it!
Expert tips and FAQs
Farmers' pasta makes a great one-pot meal with a simple green salad and a good bottle of wine alongside. It also takes well to other dishes. My go-to additions to this vegetarian meal are a beautiful pot of lentils and some crispy roasted broccolini. If you'd like to introduce a nice, low-key animal protein too, try a simple roast chicken. The pasta is flexible, so you can tuck it into the oven at the same temperature as the chicken, or turn down the oven and pop it in while the chicken rests for 20 minutes.
If you can't find one of the cheeses called for in the recipe or would rather change things up for any reason, here are my suggestions for the best substitutes.
For the provolone: Gruyere, asiago, extra-sharp cheddar, gouda
Instead of fontina: Raclette, emmenthal, havarti
For the fresh mozzarella: Scamorza, low-moisture mozzarella
Instead of parmesan: Pecorino
You sure can. One of the great things about this dish is that you can prep the whole thing up to a few days in advance, right in the baking dish. Cover it tightly and keep in the fridge until shortly before serving time. Bake right before serving. You can either take it straight from fridge to oven and tack on a few minutes of cooking time, or pull it out of the fridge an hour or so in advance and let it come to room temperature.
Leftovers keep well in the fridge for a week and can be reheated in the oven, toaster oven, or microwave.
More favorite vegetarian baked pasta recipes
- ¼ cup (60 ml) olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- ⅓ cup (40 grams) all-purpose flour
- 7 cups (1650 ml) whole milk
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 pound (454 grams) rigatoni or penne rigate
- 6 ounces (170 grams) provolone cheese, shredded
- 8 ounces (227 grams) mild fontina cheese, shredded
- 8 ounces (227 grams) fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced and divided
- 1 cup (113 grams) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
- ½ cup (30 grams) chopped fresh basil leaves
- ½ cup (30 grams) chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in either a heavy 5-quart pot or, if you have one, a 3.5-quart braiser that can go from stovetop to oven (such as the one pictured and linked below). Add the minced garlic and cook for just a moment, until aromatic.
- Add the flour all at once and cook, whisking frequently, for 90 seconds.
- Add the milk, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and bay leaves. Raise the heat to high, and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.
- When the milk boils, immediately lower the heat to medium-low. Simmer until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until just shy of al dente, about 7 minutes if the package says 11. Drain.
- Off the heat, add the fontina, the provolone, half the mozzarella, and half the parmesan. Stir until cheese is melted.
- Stir in the the basil and parsley.
- Stir in the pasta.
- Preheat oven to 375° F/190° C with a rack in the center. If you haven't cooked the sauce in an oven-safe dish, pour the mixture into a 9x13X2-inch or other 3.5-quart baking dish. Top with remaining mozzarella and parmesan.
- Bake until lightly browned and bubbly, about 20 minutes.
- If you need this dish to be vegetarian, be sure to buy a vegetarian brand of each cheese.
- If you can't find one of the cheeses called for in the recipe or would rather change things up for any reason, here are my suggestions for the best substitutes. For the provolone: Gruyere, asiago, extra-sharp cheddar, gouda. Instead of fontina: Raclette, emmenthal, havarti. For the fresh mozzarella: Scamorza, low-moisture mozzarella. Instead of parmesan: Pecorino.
- You can prepare the dish all the way through nestling it into the baking pan and topping with the cheeses. Cool it to room temperature, refrigerate it tightly covered, and bake up to a few days later. Leave out for an hour to bring back to room temperature before baking, or add up to 10 minutes more baking time to compensate.
- Leftovers keep well in the fridge for a week and can be reheated in the oven, toaster oven, or microwave.
Adapted long ago from Giada de Laurentiis. I first published this recipe here way back in 2012, after having made it at least annually since 2005. I've since updated the post for clarity, but the recipe remains the same.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 544Total Fat: 24.3gCarbohydrates: 48.8gFiber: 2.3gProtein: 32.5g
Original text from 2012
Me and cheese. It's complicated. Like a celebrity couple, we have two relationships. There's the "us" in the public eye: A small amount of high-quality cheese once or twice a week curbs cravings and contributes to an optimal lipid profile. This isn't a sham, exactly. Much of the time cheese and I do live this way. It's just that it's not the whole story.
There's also the "us" that the tabloids would kill to get a shot of. Midnight. A big hunk of milky fresh mozzarella popped in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds until it's warmed through and just starting to melt. A drizzle of really good olive oil. A sprinkle of sea salt. A spoon. It's almost indecent. We — cheese and I — wouldn't have it any other way.
Farmers' pasta: Italian mac and cheese
In the lasciviousness department, you'll also find Farmers' Pasta. This recipe is adapted from Giada de Laurentiis, and it's the kind of Giada recipe that makes my grandmother blurt out things like, "Look at her! You'll notice she only TASTES her food! One bite!" Touché, Grandma. There's more than a pound of cheese in this recipe, not that anyone's counting. Farmers' Pasta isn't the time and place for counting ounces of cheese or quibbling about their artisanal credentials.
No. Farmers' Pasta is the time and place for throwing a big, jolly party or creating a Christmas Eve dinner tradition. In London, it turns out, it's also the time for drawing on your old SAT prep and making cheese analogies, since no specific cheese you look for to cook an American recipe will ever be available when you want it. EDAM : MILD FONTINA :: MANCHEGO : PROVOLONE. It's never too late to amortize those hours spent studying for the SAT. Keep that in mind, people. (Also? Speaking of SATs, read this and prepare to laugh.)
Our longtime favorite vegetarian baked pasta for a crowd
Farmers' Pasta in one form or another has been in our family now since 2005. And since something tells me I am not the only one among us who has a complicated relationship with cheese, I thought it was high time to share this recipe — even if its place in the canon of plant-based, whole-foods recipes is questionable at best. I never pretended to be anything more than a ninety percenter, anyway. Grab a spoon, cheese lovers. We'll have plenty of time for kale and quinoa tomorrow.