Baked Pasta Dishes Blend Comforting Carbs with Cheesy Goodness

By: Karen Dybis | November 11, 2020

An assortment of pasta dishes from 220 Merrill. Photo courtesy of 220 Merrill.

As temperatures drop and winter barrels toward Metro Detroit, finding foods that heat up the kitchen and your family’s taste buds is an essential cold-weather survival tool. Plus, a bit of carb-loading may help keep you warm during these long months ahead. That is where baked pasta is an ideal fit.

These meals tend to combine several factors. They are often economical to prepare as pasta is easy to make and relatively inexpensive. They combine comforting foods, like carb-heavy noodles and grated cheese. Plus, they are rich with spices, proteins and other ingredients that you can mix and match based on what’s in season or in your kitchen already. 

At 220 Merrill in Birmingham, Executive Chef Jordan Hoffman is redoing the restaurant’s menu to bring in new flavors for the winter, and there will be a large variety of dishes included. There will be rich sauces, savory mushrooms and other local ingredients. But, most importantly, there will be baked pasta goodness.

One dish that Hoffman said he is excited to share is his Venison Ragu. Imagine thick pasta with a braised protein – in this case, venison cooked in red wine – some heavy cream and topped with melted provolone. Hoffman finishes the dish with a drizzle of a balsamic reduction, adding a bit of sweetness to the plate, he said. 

“Michigan has a pension and a taste for game,” such as venison, Hoffman said. “To me, this is something that always feels like the fall. There’s an intimate association between game and a pasta dish that is braised and features a variety of spices.” 

Hoffman said he’ll add spices such as nutmeg and allspice to the Venison Ragu as well as other wintertime tastes. Because the sauce is rich, it is a good balance for the lean venison, which likes a low and slow cook on it. 

“It’s phenomenal for this time of year,” Hoffman said. “The interplay of spices is perfect, and it is finished with a great cheese.” 

Here are some Metro Detroit restaurants that have taken a creative approach to a wintertime tradition of baked pasta dishes.

Roman Village

Head over to Dearborn for some old-school family recipes prepared and served by a great staff. The food at Roman Village is traditional, fresh and simple, just like “back home.” They prepare all soups, sauces and pastas, breads and dressings in house, which means everything is made fresh to order. Generous portions are the norm, especially with its Manicotti, which is made with mozzarella, ricotta and parmesan cheese rolled up in homemade noodles, then baked with cheese and tomato sauce.

Buddy’s Pizza

Yes, this chain is extremely well known for its Detroit-style pizza. But they also know a lot about other kinds of Italian and Sicilian food. Its baked macaroni and cheese is just as thick as its pizza crust and just as crunchy on top. Inside, it is a hearty portion of noodles and that all-important cheese, which is a blend of mozzarella and cheddar. They add some parmesan to the top to finish it off. 

Amore da Roma

Everyone in Eastern Market knows this classic Detroit restaurant, which has been in business in one way or another for more than a century. With anew name and menu, Amore da Roma brings lots of great Italian dishes to its tables. Check out Amore da Roma’s classic baked lasagna, featuring layers of homemade noodles baked with fresh cheeses in a rich meat sauce.

Pia’s Ristorante Italiano

This beloved Taylor restaurant has been feeding the masses for more than 50 years now, and it has a huge fan base for that reason and more. What is great about Pia’s is the variety of food it offers from its sauces to its noodles to its pizzas. Every one of its pasta dishes from the Fettucine to Cappellini to Ravioli can be baked the “Pia’s Special” way, which means topped with a sizable portion of mozzarella cheese.