Monday, 7 May 2012

Baked pasta with mozzarella, tomatoes and basil

I've been making this baked pasta dish regularly for years although I do tweak the recipe from time to time. This is my current favourite but there are different versions of this eaten all over central and southern Italy. It's simple Italian cooking at its best, using few ingredients and no fancy techniques to produce a delicious, crowd-pleasing meal. It can be prepared in advance so it's extremely useful for feeding large groups of people; indeed, in Italy it often features as part of a celebratory meal.

I usually use penne but you can use whatever shape of short pasta you like.

RECIPE - serves 4

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
600g passata or chopped tinned tomatoes
2 balls mozzarella, roughly chopped
bunch of fresh basil
freshly grated parmesan
400g penne

Cook the pasta in the usual way, in a large pan of salted, boiling water.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a saucepan and add the passata. Add salt and pepper and simmer gently for a few minutes; you only really want the sauce to heat through, it shouldn't be reduced at all. Remove from the heat and stir in the fresh basil leaves, roughly torn.

When the pasta is 'al dente', drain it and mix with the tomato sauce, the chopped mozzarella and a good handful of grated parmesan.

Toss it all thoroughly and put in an ovenproof dish. Cover with another generous grating of fresh parmesan.

At this stage, you can either cook it straight away in a pre-heated hot oven (200°C) for about  20 mins or you can keep it in the fridge for up to a day and cook it just before serving. In the latter case, it will need about 30 mins in the oven. When it's ready it should be golden, crispy and bubbling.

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