Baked pasta dishes are typical for major holidays and occasions in Italy. Pasta al forno usually means lasagne in the north and medium to large pasta or wide tagliatelle layered with different sauces and ingredients in the south.
This dish is vegetarian, easy to prepare and a favourite with young and old. When it’s baked, my family’s favourite bits are the crunchy caramelised pasta on top (typically in the corners). The fat penne hold unexpected bursts of tangy tomato sauce which contrast with the gooey melted creamy mozzarella.
The dish is popular for holidays because of its wide appeal but also because it leaves you free to speak to guests prior to the meal. For this reason, it is a favourite mid-week recipe of mine as I juggle three children. Preparation typically goes like this: cook the pasta and mix with the other ingredients, pop it in the oven, go collect the children from school, take it from the oven while the children unpack their bags and when everyone is ready, serve!
Pasta al forno (baked pasta with tomato and mozzarella)
Feel free to add cut cooked sausage, leftover meatballs, grilled aubergine/eggplant, cut hard-boiled eggs or pecorino cheese to mixture before baking. To see an illustrated step-by-step recipe, see here.
Olive oil, for greasing the baking dish
500 grams tomato passata
250 grams fresh mozzarella
50 grams Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
2 pinches dried oregano
400 grams penne
- Preheat the oven to 180C. Fill a large pot with 7 litres of water and 70 grams of salt. Bring the water to a boil. Meanwhile take a bit of olive oil and put it on some bunched up cling film to rub around the inside of a baking dish.
- Cut the mozzarella into 1.5 cm cubes.
- Cook the penne in the water for the time indicated on the package minus 1 minute. Drain the pasta and add it to the baking dish with the passata, mozzarella, 10 grams of the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, oregano and salt to taste.
- Mix the ingredients around until they are well mixed.
- Sprinkle the remaining 40 grams of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over the top.
- Bake for 15 minutes until the top is golden. Let the pasta sit for 5 minutes before serving.