Pasta al Forno is one of those dishes that is undeniably "Italian Family" and is eaten up and down Italy with a huge amount of enthusiasm.
It works for lunch or dinner, it is dead simple to make and cheap too. Mostly it has no meat and is just pasta, tomatoes and cheese of some description.
I like to play with the concept a little for the fun of it. This version is with spinach and a drizzle of Pecorino sauce in addition to the normal mozzarella.
- 2 tins plum tomatoes - get good quality ones that are San Marzano tomatoes or similar. NEVER buy value ones - waste of space.
- 3 tbs tomato puree - again, get the good stuff
- 1 onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- olive oil
- handful of basil
- 2 big handfuls of baby leaf spinach
- Big handful of grated Pecorino cheese
- 200ml milk
- 2 tbs flour
- 25 gms butter
- 2 small bags of good mozzarella (in water, not that fake, dry pizza rubbish)
- Large pasta shapes of your choice
Bring a large pan of water to the boil for your pasta
Finely chop the onion and garlic and gently fry in olive oil for about ten minutes till soft. Add the tins of tomato and the tomato puree and a little water. Simmer till it reduces slightly and the tomatoes are broken up. Season to taste
Put your pasta on to cook and heat up an oven to a moderate heat.
Make a thick cheese sauce by melting the butter, stirring in the flour and slowly adding the milk. Then add the grated Pecorino cheese.
To your tomato sauce add basil, chopped up, and the spinach. Stir in until the spinach wilts completely but do not cook further.
In a baking dish, layer the tomato sauce and the pasta, scattering chunks of mozzarella between the pasta and adding odd little drizzles of the cheese sauce. Make it as random as possible so you get little pockets of flavour. Put the dish in the oven and cook for about 15 minutes till the mozzarella has cooked and the sauce is bubbling up.
Serve straight away with big bottles of Chianti, big bowls to eat out of and some bread on the side.
This is NOT a quiet dish. It is family. Make noise, shout, laugh, make a big thing of it and enjoy putting all that weight on!