Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Cooking

For maximum crunch (and convenience), pull out your sheet pan

Cooking an entire meal on one rimmed baking pan — the so-called sheet pan supper — has become its own category of cooking, the oven analogue of the one-pot meal.

I was an early adopter of the sheet pan supper. You can't beat the ease, especially when what you end up with is not only simpler than most other dinners, but also better — at least if you like your food to have some crunch.

That's the benefit of a sheet pan. Spreading out all your ingredients in one layer and exposing them to the oven's high heat allows them to truly crisp and brown, more so than with any other cooking method short of frying. And if whatever you're making isn't quite brown enough, a quick stint under the broiler will take you there.

In this recipe, I give spicy broccoli pasta the sheet pan treatment. It's a particularly convenient dish to make. You roast some broccoli on a sheet pan, then toss everything else on top before returning it to the broiler.

You do have to boil the pasta in a pot before adding it to the sheet pan, so this recipe doesn't technically qualify as a one-pan meal. But it comes pretty close, and that extra pot is well worth the washing for such a satisfying meatless main course.

The combination of ingredients — broccoli, pasta, fresh ricotta and Parmesan — could also be piled into a casserole dish and baked. You'll end up with something more discretely golden on top, and soft in the middle.

But here I was going for maximum browning. I wanted the broccoli florets to be audibly crisp. I wanted the pasta to nearly burn at its edges. I even wanted the usually silky ricotta cheese to burnish and caramelize. And just for good measure, I added a thin coating of Parmesan-spiked bread crumbs to fill in the nooks and crannies.

All of those assertive textures call for bold flavors, so I added whole cumin seed and chili flakes to the broccoli, and then some grated lemon zest to the bread crumb topping. A squeeze of lemon juice at the end adds just enough brightness to bring everything together.

After making this dish once, you can use it as a template for future sheet pan suppers with pasta, swapping in vegetables like Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, zucchini, eggplant and cauliflower for the broccoli, and other soft cheeses — perhaps goat cheese or Camembert — for the ricotta.

Just keep the high heat and the bread crumbs. You want to get that crunch.

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