Pasta al Forno, with Tomato, Mozzarella and Parmesan

A very simple dish that we’ve made for about 30 years It’s been a great standby and always seems to hit the spot. Not really authentic Italian but it is Italianesque. Cooked in the oven, al forno.
This quantity is generous for two people.
Ingredients
  • 1-2 tbsp ordinary olive oil
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 1-2 garlic cloves crushed, quantity according to taste
  • 1 tsp crushed chillies (optional)
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ball of Mozzarella chopped to 1-2cm cubes (we use the stuff in brine and poly bags from the supermarket. It’s going in the oven so we don’t bother with fancy, expensive, buffalo mozzarella. Equally, the hard stuff you can grate is not right for this dish.)
  • a generous handful of freshly grated parmesan (or Gran Padano is just as good). (The dry ready grated stuff you used to get that smelled like vomit cannot be used. It is actually a hanging offence in some parts of Italy.)
  • 20-30 basil leaves
  • 250g dried pasta tubes. Your preference. We use Rigatoni but Penne works fine.
Method
  1. Put on a big pot of water to boil for the pasta, and preheat the oven to 180C fan.
  2. Soften the onion gently for about 20 minutes until it’s soft and translucent
  3. Add the chillies (if you like it hot, angry – “arrabbiata”)
  4. Add the garlic and cook it off for 2 minutes
  5. Add the tomatoes and salt/pepper and simmer very gently for 10-15 minutes (this simmering always seems essential, as something happens with the oil and the tomatoes to take away the metallic “just out of the tin” flavour.)
  6. Meanwhile, cook the pasta. It only needs the minimum time stated as you are going to cook again with the sauce in the oven.
  7. Drain the pasta into a suitable dish or tray with at least 4cm sides
  8. Add the tomato sauce and mix through
  9. Now stir in all the mozzarella, half the parmesan, and the basil leaves torn in half
  10. Finish by sprinkling over the remaining parmesan
  11. Put it in the oven for about 15 minutes. It needs to be long enough to heat through and melt the cheese. The top will crisp slightly, I find this is a love/hate thing depending on the individual.
Variants
  • Add some chopped courgette or other vegetables, you just need to make sure they are cooked enough or pre-cooked.
  • Omit the chillies
  • Add more chillies

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