Tomato and mozzarella pasta bake

Pasta with tomatoes and cheese – but a bit different.

I came across the idea of baking pasta from dry in a tomato sauce via a link on the Guardian’s excellent recipe exchange – from http://practicallydaily.blogspot.co.uk/2009/09/baked-penne-with-tomato-and-mozzarella.html.  Beware though – the first time I cooked it, I used a pottery casserole dish which promptly cracked when on the hob!  Back to good old cast iron… I treated the cheese differently as I’m a sucker for toasted cheese in all its forms.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 fat cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • half teaspoon chili flakes (or lazy chili from a jar)
  • 2x400g tins of tomatoes
  • 350g penne pasta
  • 100ml double cream
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
  • generous handful of chopped basil
  • 1 ball of mozzarella
  • salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof casserole dish (or a pan with metal handles that can go in the oven).  Add the garlic and chili and stir for a minute or so.  Add the tomatoes – if they are whole, break them up a bit with a spoon. Add the pasta, a teaspoon of salt (yes you do need this much or it will taste very bland) and stir.  Add about 500ml of boiling water and stir everything together, and bring it back to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for about 10 minutes.  Then stir in the cream and the chopped basil, and season with lots of black pepper.  At this point you could also stir in a couple of handfuls of chopped spinach or cavolo nero to up the veg content of this meal.

Slice the mozzarella very thinly and lay it on the top of the pasta and sauce.  Sprinkle the parmesan over the top of the mozzarella, and put the whole dish in a preheated oven (gas mark 4, 200 degrees C) for about 20-25 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling and the cheeses have melted and gone a bit crispy on top.

NB if you search out vegetarian mozzarella and vegetarian Parmesan-style cheese, this dish is suitable for vegetarians. Proper authentic Parmesan is not, however, veggie-friendly.

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