This is not a post for my Italian friends. The very ones who taught me how to make this AMAZING pasta dish! This is a post for those of you who would like to make an authentic southern Italian dish that is so good you will want to make it again and again and again.
This is one of the first dishes I learned to make. I first learned to make it by observation. By watching people cook and asking questions. Then I learned it by trying it out! You can’t learn if you don’t try!
You begin by making a soffrito. This is the olive oil base you use to make most sauces. What you put into your soffrito varies slightly based on the dish you are making.
Add enough olive oil to cover the base of your pan. Make sure that you use virgin olive oil (read the labels carefully). Slice or dice 1 clove of garlic and place into your pot with the oil. I prefer to slice it so that after I have browned the garlic and allowed the oil to absorb the flavor, I can remove the actual chunk of garlic from the sauce. But if you love garlic then dice away! Then finely chop some fresh parsley and 1-2 basil leaves. Add it to your oil base. I added some diced carrots as well for flavor and to sneak in some vegetables! Cook the soffrito on low until the garlic is golden brown and then add your tomato puree (approximately 2-3 cans). DO NOT use premade sauce!
Allow your sauce to simmer on low for at least 30 minutes stirring regularly. Add water as needed if the sauce is getting to thick. Pinch of salt for taste.
Next cook your pasta. You want a medium sized tube like pasta for this dish (Yes certain types of pasta are meant for certain pasta dishes!!). Cook the pasta according to the package instructions (I would recommend Barilla as a brand if you are living in the USA). Do not overcook it! Mushy pasta is the worst!! To cook your pasta: Bring your salted water to a boil. As soon as it boils add your pasta. Cook according to time on package. Usually 7-10 minutes. Drain water (do not rinse). Put back into pan and coat your pasta with a thin layer of your sauce stirring well. This will prevent your pasta from becoming a giant sticky glop or pasta.
Begin by spreading a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of your 9×12 glass or metal oven safe casserole dish. Make sure that the base is well coated and that you cannot see the bottom of your pan. Add a layer of pasta on top of the sauce. Add a layer of mozzarella cheese on top of your pasta. Then another layer of sauce. Lastly add a few more pieces of cheese around the top of the dish and sprinkle well with grated parmesean cheese. Lastly add your last layer of sauce to the pasta.
When your pasta is well coated with that last layer of parmesean cheese and sauce, then cover it with aluminium foil. Place in the center rack of the oven preheated to 400°F. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Remove the foil for the last 10-15 minutes of baking time if you would like to brown the top (my kids like it a little bit crunchy)!
Allow to cool slightly before trying to slice and serve it. It is more likely to come out in nice rectangles, or squares if it is not boiling hot.
Enjoy! This is by far one of my kids favorite dishes. I even make it in small disposable aluminium containers for the kids to take for school lunches. It works great as a “casserole” to bring to a party and is PERFECT for a make ahead dish for a party or gathering! Just make the sauce and pasta, and finish all of your layers the day or morning before, and then keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake it!
Happy Italian Cooking! I hope you enjoy a piece of my Italian life!
Olive oil: Then olive oil should be dark green in color. Look carefully at the label. They often advertise as Extra Virgin Olive oil but if you read the label you will see that it is cut with other seed oils, which creates an inferior quality!
Tomato Sauce: Use authentic tomato Italian puree and authentic Italian peeled tomatoes. Read the labels well and do not buy things that already have added flavors like onion, or basil, or other ingredients. You cannot control the flavor of your sauce if there is already other ingredients mixed in.
Cheese: I use a combination of scamorza and mozzarella cheeses, with grana padano or parmesean cheese on top. Stick with white cheeses! No cheddar. Use mozzarella if you can. Fresh is best, but harder to find.
Pasta: The quality of the pasta can be tasted! You can taste the difference! Do not get cheap pasta- splurge on a box of Barilla or wait until it is on sale. Do not overcook your pasta. Cook it according to the directions, or often 1-2 minutes less. The times on the USA boxes are all 1-2 minutes longer than the times on the Italian boxes.
Have fun! I hope you can create your own little Italian vacation with this delicious pasta dish!