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Tomato and aubergine pasta bake

Updated: Sat, 24 April, 2021

Easy, comforting and vegetarian. Is there a better combination than aubergine, tomato and pasta?

aubergine and tomato pasta bake

Which pasta shapes for which sauce?

Pasta shapes are supposed to be dressed with appropriate sauce.The chunky shapes: penne, fusilli, farfalle, are for robust sauces while the long, thinner strands need to be served with creamy, delicate dressing.

Spaghetti bolognese, Britain's favourite pasta dish is apparently an abomination because in Italy spaghetti wouldn’t be seen dead (or served up) with meaty ragù. Apparently it’s supposed to go with tagliatelle or pappardelle, but then those are also long, thin strands. Who can understand Italians?

With pasta sauce, less is more

Life seems far too short to ever try all the pasta shapes, there are so many. I’m really not quite sure whether I personally prefer the chunky pasta shapes or the long, challenging ones but I have some rules of thumb of my own.

One is to serve long pasta fresh, tossed with creamy sauce of one kind or another. Here less is more, as you want to flavour the noodles, rather than drown them. That’s why the quality of pasta is important.

Another of my pasta rules is to match tomato sauce with chunky shapes. It will cling to the twists and holes obediently instead of sitting in 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 discernible and yet the tomato flavour was intensely superb.

aubergine pasta al forno

Which shapes for pasta bake?

For pasta al forno I usually stir chunkier shapes into sauce: fusilli, penne, rigatoni or conchiglie. I decadently add some extra mozzarella slices and bake until the dish is crisp on top. The bubbling cheese, the scorched fusilli, there surely isn't a more comforting dinner than pasta straight from the oven.

How to mix pasta with sauce?

Hopefully we all know that pasta likes to be boiled in plenty of salty water without adding any oil to it when drained. The most efficient way - and how the nonnas do it - is to 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 impart the flavour to pasta while still cooking awhile. And always slosh a little cooking water to the sauce together with the pasta.

How to make good tomato sauce?

It is very, very easy. A tin of tomatoes or a jar of passata will make very good sauce. Of course you can use fresh tomatoes but unless they are very ripe, you are actually better off with tins.

A little oil, a clove of garlic, salt and pepper and a drop of honey - and the secret is in long cooking. It will annoyingly splatter all over the hob but best to cook it uncovered. Forty minutes is the minimum and the longer the better - within reason of course.

My tip is to cook three or four times as much in a huge vat, decant it into tubs or freezer bags in portions and have months of pizza and pasta sorted.

pasta bake with aubergine and homemade tomato sauce

Can I use shop bought tomato sauce?

Reluctantly, yes. Nothing will beat homemade stuff and considering how easy this recipe is, it should be unforgivable to open a jar instead. But I am tolerant, open-minded and understanding.


Can you improve on a simple classic of aubergine and tomato pasta bake? No, but for the persistent variation seekers, here goes.

Vegan version: skip the cheese or use vegan equivalent.

Meat version: add some diced streaky bacon when cooking the aubergine.

Mushroom and tomato pasta bake: simply swap aubergine for mushrooms and proceed as per recipe. You can do the same with red peppers or courgette except cook the latter much less.

Tomato and aubergine pasta bake

Servings: 2Time: 1 hour 30 minutes


  • For the tomato sauce:
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp honey
  • salt and black pepper
  • a few sprigs of fresh basil
  • For the pasta:
  • 1 medium aubergine
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 160g chunky pasta, penne or fusilli
  • 100g cooking mozzarella, sliced
  • 3-4 tbsp. grated Parmesan


1. To make the tomato sauce (it can be made well ahead), heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the chopped garlic and cook gently until fragrant but not coloured. Add the contents of the tomato tin, the honey, season with salt and black pepper and add the basil sprigs, roughly torn. Stir and leave to cook over medium-low heat for at least 40 minutes, stirring every now and then. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

how to make simple tomato sauce

2. Put a large pan of water with plenty of salt on to boil for the pasta.

3. Dice the aubergine and cook it in the olive oil until softened, for about 10 minutes.

cooking aubergine

4. 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.

5. Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/gas 5.

6. Pour the mix into a baking dish, tuck some mozzarella slices into the pasta and cover with the remaining slices. Sprinkle with half the grated Parmesan.

oven ready aubergine pasta bake

7. Bake the pasta for about 40 minutes until crispy, brown and bubbling all over. Let it stand for a few minutes before serving, with the rest of the Parmesan on the side.

Originally published: Sat, 8 November, 2014

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I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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