Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Another pasta bake recipe....yawn you might say, but this one's different

It's fair to say I am slightly obsessed with Italian ingredients, pasta dishes in particular. I've quite a few pasta sauce/bake type recipes to my repertoire. Needless to say I've yet to encounter the ultimate one, whatever takes my mood (or more to the point, whatever I have in the fridge), I do different flavour combinations. But I'm sure like you, I change the mind half way through cooking and start adding things, when I see the array of herb/spices/condiments staring at me, whispering "use me, you know you want to".

So the last few pasta bake recipes have included a 'roux/flour based' sauce, thus adding cheese.....haven't we all got a skinny, door wedge shape piece in our fridges?, too thin for the perfect slice in a sandwich or baguette. 

I recall some time in the early 90s entering my teens, trying the combination of mozzarella, tomato and basil in a pasta bake. Mozzarella (a ball within milky water) being a fairly new product I guess, we could always get the grated variety for pizzas. There was something very unique about this stretchy cheese when it melts with the sweetness of the tomatoes and subtle aniseed of the basil. When in a dish with penne, it's a substantial fail safe centrepiece of any family dining table. There's something about it also that screams "summer". The dish I've created time and time again was based on recipe card from sainsburys I think. I wish I still had it to hand. Now widely available, products such as mozzarella, halloumi, mascapone and chorizo were pretty unheard of back then.

Now we take for granted that our palettes have evolved, there's almost too much choice nowadays. I think this is why, for some, busy parents opt for the easy option of crap food in "beige format" from a place where Reykjavik is not the capital. We need to start afresh, not in a back to basics way like Delia advocated in her "How to Cook" series. Start by boiling an egg in episode one, by the end of the series all recipes have an ingredients list as long as your arm....get real!!

Cooking for me is more instinctive, what do I want to eat? Si├ón and myself (aka egg and chips) bounce of each other for inspiration, we want to know the ins and outs of each others' weekly shopping basket (well I do). Cooking, well more specifically food is about pleasure, nostalgia (as Nigel Slater always bangs on about), what you enjoy. People eat out a lot, such a wide variety of italian type places, oriental, burger joints, pub food, bistros...the list is endless. So if we have such a sophisticated pallete for what we want to eat when we go out, why can't we adopt the same principal for food at home. I bet anyone can recreate a dish they once had in well known pizza/pasta chain, for a fraction of the price. This is what frustrates me, people don't eat the way they should at home. I'm not talking about posh restaurant food. I'm saying it needs to be relaxed, a few simple ingredients thrown together in the right way with the right equipment...and most all, a bit of love. By all means, look online, read recipe books, use them as a guide. But don't get het up about quantities and specific ingredients, experiment and use something else you have to hand or what's in season, sometimes I find dishes work out better this way, quite like an "accidental" meal loosely based on a recipe just 
with stuff I've thrown together.

And here is a fine example of this.....

2 or 3 rashers of smoked bacon chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 (or more if you prefer) chestnut mushrooms, sliced
1 small glass of white wine, one that you're drinking (optional)
1 tin chopped tomatoes
a small glug of balsamic vinegar (optional)
salt and pepper
a pinch of sugar
half a pack of dried pasta (I used fusilli)
a handful of torn basil leaves
a ball of mozzarella, cut up into smallish chunks
a large handful of grated cheese, I used half Grana Padano half cheddar (or whatever you have in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 180-190 degrees c.

First I chuck in a pan with a glug of olive oil, some cut up bacon, chestnut mushrooms, chopped onion and a clove of crushed garlic. 

At this point you could add a good glug of white wine or just a tin of chopped 
tomatoes. Season with salt, pepper and pinch of sugar. Nice to add dry chilli for a bit of a kick or a scattering of balsamic vinegar. Reduce for about 10 mins.

Boil some pasta (I use about half a pack for us lot, 2 hungry people and 2 smaller people). I like to use either fusilli or penne for this type of bake. For meatier bakes I'll use a rigatoni or creamier, cheesy bakes chonchigli work well. 

Once pasta is al dente, tumble it into a deepish oven dish with the tomato sauce. Tear or cut mozzarella into chunks, add basil leaves, grated cheeses.

About 15-20 mins in oven, that should do it. Mozarella will have just melted to give full "stretch factor". A nice chilled glass of white will go nicely with it. 


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