I am always happy when I find an aubergine in my fortnightly veg box. I love this fat purple hand grenade of a fruit and its versatility – it seems to go with every type of cuisine imaginable. Whereas I usually bung it in a curry, or braise it with some tofu, this time I wanted to do something a bit different. The (frankly awful) weather we’re experiencing at the moment makes me want to wrap myself up in a blanket of carbs and cheese, so I decided to turn to that most homely of comfort foods – the humble pasta bake.
Strictly speaking, this isn’t a pasta bake. It’s a ziti, an American/Italian mashup which is a bit like a lasagne but made with short pasta. But, the way I see it, a pasta bake by any other name is still a pasta bake – even if people get a bit snotty when those two words are thrown around. Best of all, it’s the perfect thing to make if you’re cooking for a crowd. The most ‘cooking’ you have to do is creating a decent tomato sauce and browning some aubergine slices. Then you just layer the lot together, smother it in some mozzarella and ricotta cheese and throw it in the oven for 25 minutes. If you’re not particularly keen on huge chunks of aubergine, you could just chop it into cubes and add those to the tomato sauce. Or, if you’re feeling really dirty, you could coat them in panko breadcrumbs and fry them first to add a nice bit of crunch (thinking back, I kind of wish I’d done this now myself).
This is easy, delicious food, and just the thing to keep the Summertime blues at bay. Add a simple green salad, some good crusty bread and a glass of wine, and you have the perfect weeknight dinner.
BAKED AUBERGINE ZITI (Serves Three)
You will need:
For the tomato sauce
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp rosemary
- 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
- 3 leaves of basil, chopped
- 1 tsp of white sugar
- 200g penne pasta
- 1 medium aubergine
- 150g mozzarella
- 150g ricotta
- Salt and Pepper to season
- First, fry your garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil until it begins to soften. Add the tinned tomatoes and tomato purée and cook for five minutes until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Add the oregano, rosemary, basil, chilli flakes and white sugar and simmer while you are cooking your pasta.
- Boil your penne until it becomes al dente. Drain, and toss in a tablespoon of olive oil to prevent it sticking.
- Cut your aubergine into thick rounds (they should be roughly the same width as a 2p coin). Sauté in some olive oil until they are just beginning to turn brown.
- Mix the penne with the tomato sauce and layer at the bottom of a large casserole dish. Add the ricotta, then the sliced aubergines and top with torn mozarella. Season well, and bake at 200 degrees C/Gas Mark 5 for around 20-25 minutes.
- Once the baked ziti has cooked, leave to cool for around five minutes. Serve with a green salad and fresh crusty bread.