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tomato and aubergine pasta bake

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Aubergine and tomato pasta bake

I’m really not quite sure if I prefer the chunky pasta shapes or the long, challenging ones. Of course they are each meant for different sauces: the chunky shapes are for robust sauces and the long, thinner strands need to be dressed in creamy, delicate fashion. Spagbol is apparently an abomination – in Italy spaghetti wouldn’t be seen dead (or served up) with the meaty ragù. But on the other hand it’s supposed to be all right with tagliatelle or pappardelle – go figure.

I have some rules of thumb of my own. One is to serve long pasta fresh, dressed with creamy sauce, less is more, as you just really want to flavour the noodles, that’s why good quality is important. Another rule is to match tomato sauce with chunky shapes – it will cling to the twists and holes instead of being left a puddle on the plate at the end of the meal. Less is more applies here too. I had the best pasta ever in Umbria – the sauce was hardly visible and yet the tomato flavour was intense.

In pasta al forno I will usually throw the chunky shapes into sauce – fusilli, penne, rigatoni, conchilie – decadently add some extra mozzarella or asiago and bake until crispy on top. The recipe below uses fusilli – the sauce clings to those twisty numbers beautifully.

And finally, just to be boring: don’t add oil to pasta water. Cook your sauce in a pan large enough to contain the drained pasta as well. Never, ever spoon the sauce on top of a pile of noodles – it needs to give it flavour while still cooking. Always add a little cooking water to the sauce together with the pasta. And less is more – after all pasta is meant to be a starter…

  • INGREDIENTS
  • tomato sauce, made from 1lb fresh tomatoes or one tin – recipe here
  • 1 medium aubergine
  • a little oil
  • 80-90g dried pasta – I used fusilli
  • 50g cooking mozzarella, half of it diced and half sliced
  • 3-4 tbsp grated parmesan

Fusilli, aubergine and tomato

METHOD
First cook the tomato sauce and put a large pan of water with plenty of salt to boil the pasta. Dice the aubergine and fry it in a little oil, until slightly browned.
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the packet, less a minute or two – it will cook further in the sauce. Drain and add to the tomato sauce with a few splashings of the cooking water. Add the aubergines and toss it well together.

Cooking pasta and tomato sauce

Pour the pasta into a baking dish, tuck the diced mozzarella into it all over and cover with the slices. Sprinkle with half the grated parmesan. At this stage it can hang around for a while, even overnight in the fridge, all the better for it I’d say so it can easily be prepared in advance.

Preparing pasta bake

Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5. Bake the pasta for about 40 minutes until crispy, brown and bubbling all over. 10 minutes before the end of baking time sprinkle with the rest of the parmesan – or reserve it to add straight onto the plates.

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