During a delightful week at my daughter’s place, running wild with the two kids, we had an informal Sunday lunch with friends and made this baked pasta dish from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Italy. Jamie describes it as a wonderful dish which is simple to make, and he is right on both points.
He first fell in love with this dish in Italy, then tried to reproduce it in his school’s program for 37p per serve. He tells how he fell out of love with it because he had to use cheap pasta and cheap cheese. Back in Italy, he realised that the Italian government mandates organic pasta for schools, the mozzarella was always local and fresh and the tomatoes the best available. It makes all the difference! He says that this was the recipe that was made for 1,000 kids at the Italian school he visited.
The dish is very common in Italy, and can be eaten hot, warm and room temperature. Use the best ingredients that you can, and make two – you won’t regret it.
Similar recipes include Baked Ziti with Feta, Orecchiette with Broad Beans, Pasta Bake with Cabbage and Cheese, and Pasta Sauce with Aubergine, Red Peppers and Tomatoes.
Jamie’s Pasta al Forno con Pomodori e Mozzarella | Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Mozzarella
1 white onion , peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic , peeled and finely sliced
1-2 dried red chillies , crumbled
1.5 kg ripe tomatoes , or 3 x 400g cans of good-quality plum tomatoes
1 large handful fresh basil leaves
1 Tblspn red wine vinegar , optional
400g dried orecchiette
4 big handfuls Parmesan cheese , freshly grated
3 x 150g mozzarella balls
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
Preheat your oven to 200°C and put a large saucepan of salted water on to boil.
Heat a couple of Tblspns of extra virgin olive oil in an appropriately sized pan. Add your onion, garlic and chilli and slowly fry for about 10 minutes on a medium to low heat until softened but without any colour.
If using fresh tomatoes, remove the core with the tip of a small knife, plunge them into the boiling water for about 40 seconds until their skin starts to come away, then remove with a slotted spoon or sieve and remove the pan from the heat. Put the tomatoes into a bowl and run cold water over them, then slide the skins off, squeeze out the seeds, and roughly chop.
Add your fresh or canned tomatoes to the onion and garlic, with a small glass of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 20 minutes.
Now put the cooked tomatoes through a food processor or blender to make a loose sauce. Tear your basil leaves into the sauce and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and a little swig of red wine vinegar.
When the sauce tastes perfect, bring the water back to the boil. Add the orecchiette to the water and cook according to the packet instructions, then drain and toss with half of the tomato sauce and a handful of Parmesan.
Prepare your baking pan or earthenware dish by rubbing it with a little olive oil. Layer a little pasta in the pan, followed by some tomato sauce, a handful of grated Parmesan and 1 sliced-up mozzarella ball, then repeat these layers until all the ingredients are used, ending with a good layer of cheese.
Place into the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden, crisp and bubbling. Serve and enjoy.