It was a stable food when I was in high school and had my girlfriends over on a friday night when my parents were out. Although the one we used to make in high school came from a jar and made very little mess but as 16 year olds the kitchen was covered in pasta sauce by the end of it. You added a whole packet of dried pasta, the contents of the jar, a few cups of water and baked it until the pasta had soaked up all the liquid and then topped it with grated frozen cheddar cheese or cheese slices (it depended on what was in the cheese drawer... yes my mum had a drawer just for cheese in the fridge) until it was bubbling and crunchy around the edges. I would eat so much of it until I was belly popping full and then go back for more when it had cooled down.
I'll let you in on a secret... When I go past the jarred pasta sauce isles in the super market every week I still look for the jar of sauce we used back then but unfortunately they no longer make it. Or maybe its fortunate that they don't make it anymore or I'd still be eating the same pasta bake 9 years later. I will probably still look this week like always for the sauce and will come back empty handed.
So with no jarred sauce in hand I made Jamie Oliver's Pasta al Forno con Pomodori e Mozzarella (Baked pasta with tomatoes and mozzarella) from Jamie's Italy cookbook. This recipe called for dried orecchiette (little ears) pasta, it definitely could work with any pasta but I will take any excuse to try a new pasta shape and I will probably tell you that every pasta shape is good because lets be honest, I love every kind of pasta. These ones were thicker then other dried pasta I've had before and held all the sauce in the little curve making it a very hearty pasta bake. Great for sitting on the couch, curled up on a winters night with a big steaming bowl of rich tomatoey pasta bake. Mmmmmmm
There is probably hundreds of pasta bake recipes and I can tell you this will not be the only one I post about. I absolutely love them. Not only are they a comfort food to me, they are a dish that you can prepare, bung it in the oven then go and have a shower or do some of the washing up (or if your super lucky, load the dishwasher) so the kitchen doesn't look like a bomb has gone off in it and you can sit and enjoy dinner knowing that most of the cleaning is already done.
The kitchen definitely looked like a bomb had gone off in it after I made this. Jamie tells you to add some of the sauce to the pasta then layer the sauce, pasta and cheese in three lots so its all evenly throughout the baking dish. What a mess I made!! I feel I wasn't very organised when I made this but it could be less messy if you are more organised. I was scared to go back into the kitchen after we had finished eating... but it was worth it. It was so yummy! rich and tomatoey and they you got little pockets of stringy mozzarella.... mmmm so tasty!
Jamie Oliver's Pasta al Forno con Pomodori e Mozzarella from Jamie's Italy.
(Baked Pasta with Tomatoes & Mozzarella.)
recipe adapted - original recipe here.
1 white onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil (I used about 3 tbsp)
1 or 2 dried chillies, crumbled (I used chilli flakes, about 1/2 tsp)
3 x 400g tins of plum tomatoes (I used regular canned chopped tomatoes)
a large handful of fresh basil leaves
1 tbsp red wine vinegar (Jamie says this is optional but I used it)
400g dried orecchiette pasta
4 big handfuls of parmesan cheese, freshly grated
3 x 150g balls of fresh mozzarella (I used little balls of bocconcini mozzarella)
- Preheat your oven to 200 C or 400 F.
- Fry the onion, garlic and chilli in the olive oil over a medium heat until softened. Add your tomatoes and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Blitz with a stick blender until smooth. Tear you basil leaves into the sauce and add the red wine vinegar (if using) then place back on the heat to keep warm. Taste and then season with salt and pepper.
- Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Drain.
- Add half the sauce to the pasta and mix together with a handful of parmesan.
- Layer a third of the pasta in a baking tray, then some sauce, a ball of mozzarella torn up and a handful or parmesan. Keep layering in that order until all the ingredients are used up making sure you finish with a topping of cheese.
- Bake for 15 - 20 minutes or until its golden, crispy edges and bubbling. Jamie says to eat this at room temperature but I had it piping hot from the oven then snacked on it when it was at room temperature and it was delicious both ways.