provolone pasta bake
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I swear – this is a dish whose flavour can knock your socks off, and in a good way. If you ever wondered how to make tomato pasta taste unbelievably good, this is your chance.
The star of this show is provolone. It’s an Italian cheese which comes in dolce or piccante variety, made from cow’s milk and granted DOP designation.
You can’t easily buy it in the UK, which puzzles me no end as it’s similar to, or nicer than several cheeses common as muck in this country. Mozzarella first of all, Greek haloumi but also scamorza – smoked mozzarella, is easier to be encountered in shops than provolone. It’s not exactly awfully expensive – if anything isn’t – and it has precisely the wonderful melty-stringy qualities that are adored in the Kraft plastic slices; while being proper unprocessed cheese. Go figure why it isn’t wider known. If Asiago is more popular in your neck of woods, go for it. Otherwise use good quality cooking mozzarella.
The supporting part is played by the tomato marinara sauce. I know, I know – marinara is the quick tomato sauce without onions; but I’m not Italian and I don’t know better. What I know is that the combination of onion and tomatoes makes the sauce sing and the whole dish dance.
- 1 medium onion
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 500g (1 pound) fresh ripe tomatoes or a tin of good quality Italian tomatoes
- ½ tsp pepperoncino (Italian chili) paste
- ½ tsp chopped basil
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 200g (1 ½ cup) dried short chunky pasta: fusilli, penne, rigatoni etc.
- 150g (5oz.) provolone cheese, thickly sliced
- a pinch of chilli powder
- a few cherry tomatoes, halved
Blitz the onion in a blender or a food processor. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the onion. Sweat until softened.
Blitz the garlic cloves and the tomatoes in a blender or a food processor. Add to the onion and stir in over medium heat. Add the chilli paste, the dried herbs and pepper flakes, salt and pepper, cover with a lid and cook over low heat for 45 minutes.
Bring a large pan of heavily salted water to the boil. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions minus 3 minutes. Drain and add to the tomato sauce pan. Mix well.
Butter a 20 x 30 dish and pour the pasta and sauce mix in. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 6. Arrange the provolone slices over the top of the dish, sprinkle the chilli powder over the cheese and press the tomato halves into the cheese, cut side up.
Bake for 40 minutes or until bubbling and browned on top. Let it stand for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.