This is probably a perfect dish for the coming autumn. Simple, richly flavoured, impressive - what more do you need midweek? I bought 3 balls of buffalo mozzarella on Saturday and used 2 of them Sunday night as pizza topping with chorizo and I needed to use the last one as not using it is a crime against good eating. Needs must would have ripped it into shreds and snacked on it with a glass of wine but fancied something a little more...........
Idly surfing I came across some ideas for pasta bakes - which I love round about now as the days get shorter and the evenings get cooler. The interesting thing about this one, an adaptation from serious eats, is that the pasta is cooked in the sauce without cooking it first in water. The pasta plumps up with the velvety richness of the tomatoes, obvious as a way to cook once you think about it but I admit I never had. The man loved the idea - primarily because it's pasta and he loves all things pasta but also because he is the washing up fairy round ours and this didn't make vast amounts of mess.
Baked Penne with tomato and mozzarella
6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 tspn chilli flakes
2 tbspns olive oil
2 400g tins of tomatoes
350g penne pasta
3 cups water
1/2 cup double cream
2 tbspns grated Parmesan
Generous handful of chopped basil leaves
1 ball mozzarella - buffalo if you can get it
Salt and pepper
Heat the oil in a large ovenproof casserole and add the garlic and chilli flakes. Stir for 30 seconds then add the tomatoe and their juice, breaking them up with a wooden spoon. Simmer for about 15 minutes till they start to reduce.
Add the pasta, 1/2 a tablespoon of salt and the water and stir. When the sauce starts to simmer turn the heat down and cook, stirring every few minutes to prevent the pasta sticking to the bottom of the pan. The penne should be al dente after about 15 minutes.
Heat the oven to Gas 4/375F/200C.
Stir in the cream, Parmesan and basil along with ground black pepper. Tear the mozzarella into small chunks and dot across the top of the pasta and sauce. Bake the dish in the preheated oven for 20 minutes till the sauce is bubbling and mozzarella is soft and golden.
Take it out of the oven and let it sit for a couple of minutes then serve it with lots of crusty bread.
This works so well - the chilli adds a light background heat and the basil and garlic a real depth of flavour. The cheese and cream create a luxurious lushness that isn't cloying because of the tomatoes. Nicest pasta I've made for a while.