Pasta bakes are an ultimate comfort food – they’re hot, stodgy and cheesy. What more could you ask for? But as a midweek meal they can be a hassle to compile and take a while to cook and when you don’t get home from work until 8pm that last thing you want to do is have to preheat an oven and then spend another half an hour waiting for your dinner to actually cook. By the time you’ve cooked and eaten it’s time to brush your teeth and get in bed! So this is a recipe that Rob often cooks for us when we’re both in late and in need of some cheesy pastery goodness. You’ll wonder why I’ve put the word ‘bake’ in inverted commas and that’s because the reason this recipe can be done so speedily is that it isn’t actually baked, but you get a similar result.
Your favourite pasta shapes – you can use dried or fresh but probably wiser not to choose spaghetti, linguine etc
1 ball of fresh mozzarella
1 jar of your favourite store bought pasta sauce – we use Lloyd Grossman’s tomato and chilli (it’s not cheating if you’re in a hurry!)
Bag of washed fresh spinach leaves
1 long Romano pepper, chopped – you can use normal red peppers if you like but these are tastier
1 clove of garlic, crushed
Small punnet cherry tomatoes, halved or whole
Salt and pepper to taste
Get your salted water boiling and put in your pasta – for best results use a bronze penne and cook to al dente. (If you’re using fresh pasta you obviously need to be very careful not to overcook, so probably best to leave this step until after your sauce is prepared). Unlike with other pasta bakes, you do need to cook the pasta completely as this dish is super quick and it won’t be sitting in the oven to absorb more moisture.
In another pan, heat your sauce with the chopped pepper, tomatoes and garlic. You can add the cherry tomatoes whole or halved, whichever you prefer – personally I prefer them hard and then cooked just until they pop. When this has all softened slightly, gradually add in handfuls of spinach – you can use as much or as little as you like, there are no rules as long as you have a dish big enough to contain it all!
Once you pasta is cooked, drain it and start heating your grill. You’ll now need to transfer the pasta and sauce to an oven/grill proof dish like you would with a normal pasta bake. Slice your mozzarella ball and lie the pieces evenly over the surface and top with a pinch of sea salt flakes and a grinding of black pepper.
Now simply pop until the grill until the mozzarella bubbles. Done. How easy was that eh? It couldn’t have taken any more than 20 minutes front to back and now you’ve got an extra half an hour to unwind before bed you lucky sausage!
A really nice addition to this would be some crispy fried pancetta or some chorizo coins if you’re going for a slightly less diet friendly option. Sometimes when concocting pasta dishes at home we tend to use less pasta and bulk out the dish with some grated courgette for an extra healthy option. This is great reheated for lunch the next day too!