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Pasta al forno alla Pugliese

Posted by TEAM TDSV on 2021-03-11
Pasta al forno alla Pugliese

Baked pasta from Puglia

serves 6
 
Our family’s number one dish! Another recipe that is made all year round and is a classic on a Sunday – especially in the south of Italy where they maintain many more traditions than the rest of the country. It is a dish that we eat at the family table and one that has been packed away and taken on picnics and day outs to the beach! It always draws a crowd and is a recipe that takes time but is one of the most prepared and appreciated dishes in Puglia – second only to a parmigiana or a lasagne!
Typically, this is cooked in a large terracotta pot and where possible, in a pizza oven. Many years ago, the nonnas or mammas cooking the dish would take their partially cooked dish to the local baker or communal oven. Stories have been told of the ladies in a procession to and from the ovens! Finishing it off in these ovens, makes the Pasta al Forno taste even richer – if that is at all possible! It is the crust that forms on the top with the cheese. It is best when the top burns slightly and the pasta sticking out becomes crisp, mixed with the succulence of the sauce inside, makes this dish truly unforgettable.
As with all traditional Italian dishes, there are of course regional variations and you will probably make your own tweaks! But with this recipe, you cannot go wrong. This recipe has been handed down from our nonna Elena, everyone still follows the recipe and our dad Michele taught us to make it – now it is your turn– provaci!
 
Ingredients:
500 g Rigatoni or Paccheri
300 g of mozzarella cheese (chopped into 1cm cubes)
200 g of grated Parmesan cheese (300g in total)
150g Mortadella sliced or chopped (optional)
 
 
For the tomato sauce:
1 small onion (chopped)
2 cloves chopped garlic
2 Jars passata
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
 
For the meatballs
(follow pasta and meatball recipe)
500g minced meat (equal amounts of pork, veal and beef or any combination)
100g grated parmesan or romano cheese
Handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 slices white bread or 50g breadcrumbs
1 glass milk
1 large egg
2 cloves garlic very finely chopped
Salt and pepper
 
 
Preparing the tomato sauce:
1 lit tomato sauce (follow Parmigiana or meatball sauce recipes)
or
Make a sauté with the finely chopped small onion and garlic
Add 1 lit tomato passata, fill the empty jars with a little water – swirl them around to gather the remaining sauce and pour into the other jar then empty into the saucepan
Add a pinch of salt and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes. Ready to add the meatballs.
Preparing the meatballs:
Follow meatball sauce recipe
or
In a small bowl, place the white bread / breadcrumbs and enough milk to cover. Leave the bread to absorb the milk.
In a large mixing bowl, add the minced meat, chopped parsley, chopped garlic, parmesan/romano and a beaten egg.
Remove the bread/breadcrumbs from the milk and lightly squeeze it to remove the excess liquid (this will make your meatballs light and fluffy) and add it to the meat mixture.
With your freshly washed hands, blend all the ingredients together.
This is where you will need to decide on the size of your meatballs. For this recipe, the smaller the meatballs the better! Approx. 1 teaspoon of meat (a lot of work but kids love the little ones!).
This will require a bit of time but you will have a lot of meatballs!
Form your meatballs and place them on a tray/plate.
When you have done this, have a sip of wine! Then remove the lid off the sauce, carefully drop each ball in to the sauce – be careful not to drop them from a height!
    Bring the heat up slightly so that they simmer in the sauce but do not let it boil.
The meatballs need to cook for about 30 minutes. Have a quick taste to see if you need to add any more salt and pepper.
 
Prepare the pasta:
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil.
Add a tablespoon of salt then add your chosen pasta.
I cannot emphasise the importance of sufficiently salting your water for the pasta. The pasta will not absorb all the salt but if it is under seasoned, the whole dish will be ruined.
Look at the recommended cooking time for your chosen pasta and take off 3 minutes. This is because the pasta will have a second cooking session once put into the oven so you don’t want to over-cook it or it will turn to mush!
Once partially cooked, drain the pasta water. You will need to use the saucepan for mixing so don’t wash the pan up just yet – but do throw away the water!
 
Putting the dish together:
Preheat your oven to 180
 In the large empty saucepan where you cooked the pasta, put your drained pasta and add approx 5 ladles of the incredible sauce – try not to add the meatballs yet.
Mix together well and add a handful of the grated parmesan.
Ladle the sauce coated pasta into the bottom of your baking dish
Now add a layer of the mini meatballs
A couple of ladles of the sauce
Cover with a handful of the chopped mozzarella and a sprinkle of the parmesan
Repeat the layer:
Pasta, meatballs, sauce, mozzarella, parmesan
Top the dish with a final couple of ladles of the sauce and a good covering of parmesan
 
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 60-90 minutes – until the top is crispy and any pasta sticking out is slightly charred and crispy – everyone in my family always target the crispy bits first!
To serve:
Bring the dish straight to the table and serve!
 
Buon appetito!
 
Top tip:
Don’t be scared to let the top burn – it makes the dish even more tasty!
Serve with a bottle of our fabulous Terre Di San Vito’s Cantiniere Primitivo red wine.
Pasta Al Forno

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