baked pasta with tomatoes and mozzarella (pasta al forno con pomodori e mozzarella)
- • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- • extra virgin olive oil
- • 1 white onion, peeled and finely chopped
- • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
- • 1 or 2 dried red chillies, crumbled
- • 1.5kg ripe tomatoes or 3 x 400g tins of good-quality plum tomatoes
- • a large handful of fresh basil leaves
- • optional: 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- • 400g dried orecchiette
- • 4 big handfuls of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- • 3 x 150g balls of mozzarella .
Preheat your oven to 200ºC/400ºF/gas 6 and put a large pot of salted water on to boil. To an appropriately sized pan add a couple of lugs of good extra virgin olive oil, 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 you’re 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 pips and roughly chop. Add your fresh or tinned tomatoes to the onion and garlic, with a small glass of water. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 20 minutes. Now put them through a food processor or liquidizer 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 liquidized 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. Get yourself an appropriately sized baking tray, pan or earthenware dish and rub it with a little olive oil. Layer a little pasta in the tray, followed by some tomato sauce, a handful of grated Parmesan and 1 sliced-up mozzarella ball, then repeat these layers until you’ve used all the ingredients, ending with a good layer of cheese on top. Pop it into the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until golden, crisp and bubbling. Italians seem happy to eat this dish at room temperature or quite cold, but I prefer to eat mine hot.