The best baked ziti ever!

puglia crestIMHO 🙂 Pasta al forno Pugliese. Baked pasta is popular all over Italy. This version comes from Puglia. It uses Scamorza cheese instead of mozzarella. If you can’t find scamorza you can use mozzarella, but make sure it’s not too fresh as it will make the dish too wet. Actually, that probably wouldn’t be a problem outside Italy 😉 It is traditionally made with pecorino, but nowadays most people use parmesan. There is a lighter meatless version that leaves out the meatballs. Thanks to Grazia and Tiziana for the advice. Serves 6

Baked ziti ingredients

Baked ziti ingredients

  • 500g mezzi ziti or rigatoni
  • 200g scamorza cheese, finely diced
  • 50g pecorino Romano or parmesan
  • 800g passata
  • 1 onion
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

For the meatballs:

Meatballs ingredients

Meatballs ingredients

  • 250g minced beef
  • 50g pecorino Romano or parmesan
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 2 medium eggs
  • sprig of parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
    • Make a tomato sauce by frying the onion for a few minutes in plenty of olive oil. Add the passata, season and cook over a low heat for about 30 minutes.
    • Make the meatballs by mixing all the ingredients together. Form into small balls about the size of a hazelnut. Fry in olive oil until well browned. Drain on kitchen paper.
  • fried meatballs

    fried meatballs

    • Boil the pasta until it is very al dente, two or three minutes less than the usual cooking time.  Dress with a couple of ladles of the tomato sauce and half the parmesan.
    • To assemble the dish take a high sided baking tray and put a layer of the pasta in the bottom. Cover with tomato sauce and sprinkle with meatballs, diced scamorza, and parmesan.
  • partially assenbled dish

    partially assenbled dish

  • Continue until you have used up all the pasta. The last layer should be pasta covered with tomato sauce. Sprinkle the top with parmesan
  • Assembled dish
  • Bake in a hot oven for 25 minutes.
Baked ziti

Baked ziti

Lasagne Bolognese – Authentic recipe

Bologna crestLasagne Bolognese. There isn’t one authentic recipe for lasagne Bolognese, but there are lots of things you can do to make an inauthentic one. One of my friends in Bari is still in shock from the time he was served a lasagne in Newcastle which included sweetcorn 🙂

Sweetcorn aside, the main difference between lasagne Bolognese served in Italy and those commonly served in other countries is that the Italians use far less cheese and usually have only about four layers of pasta.

This recipe uses fresh homemade pasta. I really recommend trying it with fresh lasagne, you’ll really notice the difference. The next best choice would be shop bought fresh lasagne, then dried egg lasagne which you need to precook and last, and definitly least, dried lasagne that needs no precooking.  Serves 4-6

    • Roll out the pasta into sheets. They need to be a little thicker than for tagliatelle. On my pasta machine I use the setting which is two up from the thinnest.
    • Cut the pasta into rectangles which are roughly 10cm by 8cm.
Lasagne sheets

Lasagne sheets

  1. Cook the lasagne, a few at a time, in plenty of salted boiling water. About 2-3 minutes. If you add a little oil to the water it helps to stop them sticking together.  Drain and lay them on a damp tea towel.
  2. Grease a lasagne dish with a little butter.
  3. Arrange a layer of lasagne on the bottom of the dish. Spread one third of the ragù on top, spoon on some white sauce and sprinkle with a little cheese. Dot with some of the butter.  Cover with a layer of lasagne.
  4. Repeat until you have used all of the ragù, finishing with a layer of lasagne. Cover with the rest of the white sauce.
  5. Bake in an oven preheated to 200°C for 30 minutes. Be careful not to let the top get too brown.
  6. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes before dividing into portions.
Lasagne Bolognese

Lasagne Bolognese

Ragù for baked pasta

Ragù per pasta al forno. This is used for many dishes – lasagne, baked ziti etc. There are many recipes, but the proportion of meat to tomato is always similar. One of the most common mistakes people make is to add too much tomato. If you have time, the flavour improves if you make it the day before and leave it in the fridge overnight. Enough for 4-6 portions of pasta.

  • 300g minced beef
  • 75g carrot, finely chopped
  • 75g onion, finely chopped
  • 50g celery, finely chopped
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • 250g passata
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Heat the oil in a pan and add the onion, carrot and celery. Fry gently for a few minutes until the onions start to go translucent.
  2. Add the meat and break up with a wooden spoon. Cook until it is well browned.
  3. Add the wine and continue cooking until it has almost completely evaporated.
  4. Add the passata, season with salt and cover.
  5. Cook very slowly for at least 2 hours. Add a little water if it starts to dry out.
  6. At the end of cooking, season with freshly ground black pepper.
Ragù for baked pasta

Ragù for baked pasta

Basic white sauce (Béchamel)

Besciamella

White sauce ingredients

White sauce ingredients

  • 50g butter
  • 50g plain flour
  • 500ml milk (or half milk half water)
  • a few grates of nutmeg (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Melt the butter in a pan over a medium heat.
  2. Add the flour and stir quickly with a wooden spoon until smooth.
  3. Add add a little of the milk and beat until smooth.
  4. Continue in this way until all the milk is added.
  5. Bring to a very low simmer and cook for around 15 minutes, stirring frequently to stop the sauce catching on the bottom of the pan.
  6. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg
White sauce (béchamel)

White sauce (béchamel)

Rigatoni with basil and tomatoes

Somebody was asking for vegan recipes on one of the forums I visit. She is due for a visit from her daughter-in-law and was stuck for ideas. My first thought was ‘Easy! Most of the recipes on the blog are vegan.’ . On closer inspection, however, I realised none of them are 🙂 Vegans eat cheese, don’t they? 😉 I asked around my Italian friends, and after much explanation of the concept of veganism, I came up with this recipe. Baking the dish concentrates the flavour of the tomatoes wonderfully. If you’re cooking it for a strict vegan, check that the bread crumbs don’t contain any milk.   Serves 6

rigatoni with basil ingredients

  300 grams  rigatoni
  1      kilogram  top quality tomatoes — sliced
  1      large bunch of basil — chopped
  1      tablespoon  bread crumbs
          olive oil

  • Cook the rigatoni in salted water. Drain and dress with plenty of olive
    oil, half the basil, and the bread crumbs.
  • Put a layer of the tomatoes in an oiled oven proof dish
  • Top with some basil, a drizzel of oil, a little salt, and a layer of
    rigatoni.
  • Repeat until all the ingredients have been used up. Finish with a layer of
    tomatoes.
  • Bake in a medium oven for about 45 minutes
  • Serve hot.

rigatoni with basil and tomatoes finished dish

Rigatoni baked with aubergines and meatballs

After yesterday’s simple recipe, I’m going to the other extreme today. This takes quite a while to assemble but is worth it in the end. Real Italian ‘comfort food’  😉

Serves 4

  •  500 g Rigatoni
  • 1 Aubergine
  • Olive Oil
  • 100g Provola cheese
  • 1 Mozzarella
  • 100 g Cooked ham
  • 400 ml Tomato sauce (if you have time, make your own. As you can see from the pic, I cheated.)
  • 100 g Grated Parmesan or Grana Padano

For the meatballs

  • 450 g Minced beef
  • 25 g White breadcrumbs
  • 1 Egg
  • 15g Grated parmesan
  • Parsley, chopped
  • 1 Clove garlic, finely chopped
  • White pepper
  • Heat the oven to 180°C
  • Make the meatballs by mixing all the ingredients and forming small balls with the mixture.
  • Rigatoni with aubergines and meatballs

    Rigatoni with aubergines and meatballs

  •  Boil the rigatoni in salted water until cooked. Drain. Cut the aubergine into slices 1cm thick. Grill until soft.
  • Grate the provola, slice the mozzarella, chop the ham.
  • In a baking dish put a layer of rigatoni. Place in order a layer of aubergine and then a few meatballs. Cover with tomato sauce, cheeses and ham. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up. Scatter grated Parmesan over the surface.
  • Bake for about 25-35 minutes until the mixture is bubbling and the top is golden.
Rigatoni with aubergines and meatballs

Rigatoni with aubergines and meatballs

This is adapted from a recipe collected by Matthew Fort in his book Eating Up Italy(excellent foodie porn). The original included sliced hardboiled eggs and he fried the aubergines. I didn’t think my arteries could cope with that 🙂