Friday, March 16, 2012

Pasta al forno

My husband is one of 5 siblings, who all live within an easy drive of each other, and they like to get together fairly often.  The most recent gathering was at our house for a games night (they love to play games) so with spouses and some family friends it was 12 for dinner.  I wanted to be participating in the games as well, so I decided to make this baked pasta dish that could be made ahead and thrown in the oven at the last minute. The quantities I have given are for one lasagna sized dish which would feed 6 people or 4 hungry teenage boys!

My sister in law is vegetarian so I made two dishes one with meatballs and the other without.

Equal quantities of ground beef and ground pork I used about a lb of each
2 garlic cloves grated or smashed
1 tablespoon of rosemary
1 bunch of fresh basil chopped
1/2 cup of fine breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients with your hands, there really is no other way.

Using a small ice cream scoop or spoon if you are not lucky enough to have one, portion out into balls about the size of a large walnut.  Place them on a high sided cookie sheet lined with parchment paper to stop them from sticking and to help with clean up.

Now put these in a 400 oven for about 20 minutes until they are starting to brown and are cooked through.

These can be made a day ahead if necessary (though that would take more forethought than I appear to possess)

4 tablespoons of olive oil
2 garlic cloves thinly sliced
1 tablespoon of dried chili flakes
1 large can of good crushed tomatoes (or 2 jars of my home made tomato puree oh happy day!)
4 fresh tomatoes chopped.
1 bunch of fresh basil chopped

Add the first 3 ingredients to a large pot and cook until the garlic is just starting to go golden and is giving off the most beautiful fragrance.

Quickly add the tomatoes before the garlic gets brown and burnt tasting, stir together and cook for a couple of minutes.  Then add the chopped whole tomatoes. If this was in the middle of summer with an abundance of really good tasty tomatoes I would probably use all fresh tomatoes.

Cook for about five minutes, this sauce should be light and fresh tasting not a heavy long cooked sauce.  Now add the chopped basil and you are ready for assembly.

For assembly I am not giving exact quantities, because it depends on your crowd of eaters and how much cheese you want to use.  More cheese definitely tastes good, but we all know is very high in fat. Also the cheese you use could vary depending on what you have.  This would be nice with feta in it or a grated Swiss or what ever is in your pantry this is what I had in mine.

1 large package of good quality pasta - I used penne but really any shape would do.
2 containers of fresh boccocini
1 small brick of white cheddar
1/2 small brick of regular cheddar
about 1 1/2 cups of freshly grated Parmesan

Lay the pasta out in a large shallow dish like a lasagna dish. You could use a deeper narrower dish but the golden crunchy top really is the best part. Sprinkle over the meat balls and boccocini (or mozzarella or feta)  and pour the tomato sauce over.

If you are making vegetarian, just omit the meatballs and add a little more cheese and sauce.

Vegetarian option
Add some of the grated cheese and fresh basil toss  everything together and and then add more cheese finishing with Parmesan. This can sit in the refrigerator until the next day if necessary.

About 1/2 an hour before you want to eat place the dish in to a 400 oven and cook for between 20 minutes and 1/2 an hour depending on the size of your dish and if it was straight from the fridge, should heated through and crunchy and golden on the top.

What comes out is comfort food Italian style somewhere between macaroni cheese and spaghetti and meat  balls.  Any one who knows me will tell you that I am not a big pasta lover and would never order it in a restaurant, even an Italian one, but I do like this.  We ate this with a green salad and some delicious crusty bread sitting around in casual groups in front of the fire.  2 lasagna dishes of meatball version and one smaller vegetarian version fed this hungry crowd with very little left over.

Then we got back to the games.

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