Pasta al Forno

 Fast & Easy Comfort Food…


This easy but tasty pasta dish is a staple all over Italy. Pasta al Forno is simple and filling and is perfect for families as well as parties and large gatherings. Al forno means ‘oven-baked’, which is a traditional method of cooking especially in Northern Italy, where wood-fired brick and clay ovens are traditionally used. The iconic Italian oven is most often brick-lined with an arched door, and food is pushed into the back of the oven on a wooden tray with a long handle – the thought of this rustic style of cooking just makes the dish taste better already!

Italian’s consider Pasta al Forno as fast-food, something they can quickly rustle-up either from left-overs and/or store-cupboard staples – to me it is like a short-cut Lasagne, tasty and filling, yet in a fraction of the time!

It is a hearty but straightforward dish of pre-boiled pasta layered with tomato and cheese – simple Italian ingredients; great as a comforting dish that the whole family will enjoy – perfect as a meat-free meal! The double cooking of the pasta means it is has a soft rather than chewy ‘al dente’ texture of most authentic Italian pasta dishes.

Here is what you need to feed 4 – but it’s so easy to double or even treble up!

Extra virgin olive oil
1 Onion finely chopped
2 Cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1-2 Dried red chillies crumbled
3 x 400g Tins of plum tomatoes
Small glass of water
1 Generous handful fresh basil leaves
Salt – to taste
Freshly ground black pepper – to taste
1 Tablespoon red wine vinegar – if liked
400g Dried penne, rigatoni or ziti
4 Generous handfuls Parmesan cheese, freshly grated if possible
3 x 150g Mozzarella balls

How to cook…

  1. Pre-heat oven to 200°C/400ºF/gas mark 6
  2. Gently fry onion, garlic and chilli in the olive oil for about 10 minutes until softened, but not coloured.
  3. Add tomatoes to the onion mixture, along with a small glass of water (you can of course use fresh tomatoes cored, skinned and chopped (approx.1.5 kg))
  4. Bring the vegetable mixture to the boil and then simmer for 20 minutes or so.
  5. At this point, put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta, and cook pasta as per instructions and drain.
  6. Then, if you prefer a smoother sauce, use a food processor or blender to make a loose tomato sauce, otherwise simply mash to make a more rustic tomato sauce.
  7. Add torn basil leaves into the tomato sauce and season with salt and pepper to your taste, and a little red wine vinegar if you like.
  8. Add half of the tomato sauce and a handful of Parmesan to the hot, drained pasta.
  9. Grease a large casserole dish with olive oil.
  10. Fill the dish with one layer of pasta, and top with some of the remaining tomato sauce, a handful of grated Parmesan and 1 mozzarella ball sliced; then repeat until you’ve used everything up – make sure you leave enough cheese for a generous layer on the top!
  11. Bake for 15 minutes or until the top is crisp and golden.
  12. Serve with a simple green salad.
  13. Great for warming up for a second sitting too! Or it can be eaten cold! A perfect versatile weeknight meal.
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