I had recently made Jamie Oliver’s Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Mozzarella, when I came across this similar recipe by Ottolenghi. The concept is the same – cheesey pasta in tomato sauce, baked until melty – the execution is different, with different pastas, different spices, cheeses and cooking methods. They are both great left-over-pasta-and-tomato-sauce dishes – layer with cheese and bake or grill – and hence they would make fabulous Sunday night supper meals.
I think Jamie’s recipe is a winner – easy to make and packed with flavour, and it has an honesty about its simplicity which shines through in the finished dish. Ottolenghi’s version layers the flavours with herbs and spices and uses the bite of feta and the umami of aged cheese and parmesan to add depth to the dish. It is different to Jamie’s in that the pasta is the focus and it is baked until the top layer is crispy and the cheese is golden brown. Delicious. Jamie’s recipe is pasta bathed in tomato sauce, Ottolenghi’s is pasta with a little tomato sauce.
I always preferred my father’s pasta the next day, when he’d put it in a hot oven with heaps of extra cheese. It would emerge slightly burned and very crisp on top.
This recipe serves a heap of people, up to 10, depending on how hungry the mob is. So don’t be afraid to halve it for a smaller family meal. Just note that the baking dish must be big enough to hold the pasta in a shallow layer. Or bake in separate dishes as I did.
I also have to mention that Ottolenghi grills this dish but I baked it. Partly because that is easier in our kitchen, but mostly because the recipe asks that the tomato sauce sits aside while the pasta is cooked, so it has lost heat. Baking heats the dish again beautifully.
As already mentioned, this is an Ottolenghi dish from Plenty More – we are cooking our way through this book. We feel free to substitute ingredients that are not readily available in our local area.
In fact, it is Ottolenghi Cooking the Books Day on the blog – one of two days per month where we publish the latest recipes we have tried in our project of cooking from Ottolenghi’s books – those we have cooked directly and those we have been inspired by. Currently we are cooking from Plenty More, but not ignoring his other books completely. Note that I often massage the recipes to suit what is available from our garden and pantry. For the original recipes, check his books and his Guardian column.
Similar dishes include Zucchini Gratin, Baked Feta with Tomatoes, Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Mozzarella, Pasta Bake with Cabbage and Cheese, and Pasta Sauce with Aubergine, Red Peppers and Tomatoes.
Browse all of our Pasta dishes, our Baked dishes and our Italian recipes. Our Ottolenghi dishes from Plenty More are here. We have written about our experiences cooking through this book. Or explore our Early Winter recipes.
Baked Ziti with Feta
3 Tblspn olive oil, plus a little extra to drizzle over at the end
1.5 Tblspn cumin seeds
1 Tblspn caraway seeds
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
1.5 tspn sugar
2 Tblspn tomato paste
8 very ripe large tomatoes, chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped (optional)
sea salt and black pepper
15g roughly chopped basil
1 Tblspn chopped fresh oregano
2 garlic cloves, crushed
500g long ziti, broken into uneven small segments or use penne rigate
150g mature cheddar
150g creamy feta
Heat the oil in a medium pan. Sauté the cumin, caraway, onion and celery on a high heat for six minutes, until the onion is soft but not coloured. Add the sugar and tomato paste, cook for another minute, stirring occasionally, then add the tomatoes, chilli, sea salt to taste and a good grind of pepper. Turn the heat to medium and leave the sauce to simmer, stirring from time to time, for 20 minutes. Add the basil, oregano and garlic, stir and set aside.
Heat your oven to 250C.
Cook the pasta until al dente, drain and stir into the sauce with a third of the parmesan a third of the mature cheese. Transfer to a shallow ovenproof dish roughly 30cm by 30cm, or into several individual dishes. Break the feta into chunks, and use your hands to sink them into the pasta. Sprinkle over the remaining parmesan and aged cheese and place in the oven until the cheese melts and the top layer of pasta dries out and turns crispy – anywhere between eight and 15 minutes. If you wish, you can grill the dish until the same melty-crispy top is achieved.
Allow to cool down a little before serving.
recipe notes and alternatives
This recipe is endlessly adaptable. I have made it using penne rigate. I included a carrot, some mushrooms and half a red pepper with the onions and celery, all diced finely. It helped clean out the fridge. I’ve added chipotle chilli powder. And instead of feta I have added sliced hard mozarella slices on top. Sometimes I add sliced tomato also.