Fantastically Flavoursome Pasta Bake

Day 6 of the Cupboard Challenge, and in the process of preparing dishes for Big Sis’ impending birthday celebration I’d managed to add a couple of red peppers to our supplies.  For a short while I was worried that this might be cheating, but then I remembered…this is my game so I can make up the rules.

It’s not cheating.
To any VIPs reading this: I know, and I’ll say it before you do – 7 or 47, some things never change 😀

The beauty of this dish, as with much of what we cook, is that it’s pretty willing to flex according to what you have in your stores.  Treat the following as a guide…this is by no means a recipe that needs to be slavishly followed!

OrecchietteNote however, that the shape of your pasta does make a difference to the finished dish.  I like to use orecchiette for this as all the chopped pieces of meat and veg get caught and held in the pasta dimples.  Little tubes, like tortiglioni work well too, as do the small shell shapes of conchigliette.  Long pasta, such as spaghetti or linguine is not so great.

Number of servings depends on how much of everything you use, and on how big the receiving appetites are.;-)

Ingredients
Sufficient cooked pasta for your serving requirements.
Courgette – diced
Red pepper – diced
Soffritto
 Dried porcini mushrooms – soaked in hot water for around 30 mins (keep the liquid for the sauce)
A handful of diced pancetta
A splash of olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated parmesan for topping

Sauce Ingredients
Another splash of olive oil
Crushed garlic – a lot or a little, as you prefer
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
a good splash of the mushroom soaking liquid
1 chicken stock pot (or stock cube)
Approx. 150g crème fraîche (or more, or less…flexible, remember? 😉 )
A few sprigs of fresh thyme – leaves picked from stalks
More sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Music

Got your groove on?  And your apron if you wear one?  Let’s set to it then…

Preheat oven to gas mark 6/200°C/400°F.

Put your cooked pasta into a large bowl.

Drain the mushrooms (keeping the liquid) and roughly chop – add to the pasta.

Prepared vegHeat the oil and cook the soffritto over a medium heat until it starts to soften.  Turn up the heat a little and add the red pepper and courgettes; continue to cook until the peppers are just beginning to soften and the courgettes are starting to brown.

Add to the pasta and mushrooms.

Cubed pancettaChuck the pancetta into the same pan used for the vegetables, and fry until beginning to crisp.  Soak off excess fat with kitchen roll, then add to pasta and veg.

Pasta mixMix pasta, veg and pancetta together, season with salt and pepper, then tip into a shallow, oven proof dish.

See what I mean about those lovely veggies getting held in the pasta?  Like teeny tiny serving bowls they are 😉

Garlic and thymeNow for the sauce:  wipe out your pan with kitchen roll, leaving the thinnest layer of pancetta fat…sauté the crushed garlic in that (just a few seconds)

Tinned chopped tomatoes

Chicken stockpotAdd the chopped tomatoes, stock pot and some mushroom liquid.  Stir well and bring to a simmer.

Creme fraicheRemove pan from heat.  Stir in crème fraîche, thyme leaves, salt and pepper.

Liberally sprinkled with grated parmesanPour sauce over the pasta and sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan.  Be liberal but not insanely generous…you want it to crisp up a bit, not end up in a gloopy blob.

Baked cheese often seems to look burned in my photos - in reality this was perfectly browned ;-)
Baked cheese often seems to look burned in my photos – in reality this was perfectly browned 😉

Bake in the preheated oven for around 20 minutes, or until top is golden brown and bubbling.

Pasta bake with baked fennelOn this occasion we had baked fennel on the side, but a fresh green salad is good too.

In its baked form this dish wasn’t wildly photogenic…but does it really matter when something tastes this good?
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