It happens the minute you decide to pick up and move your life someplace else. You don’t notice it at first, it’s barely visible, but as you begin to tell people, the mark on your bottom deepens. It’s your expiration date. Announce you’re leaving a job, moving from a neighborhood, or in my case, heading clear across the country and that date is firmly affixed to heiny. You notice something else too. You become popular. I’m talking perky-cheerleader-you-envied-in-high-school popular. Before you know it your dance card is filling up faster than those boxes in your living room. Which is a really good thing. Anyone who is facing a big move knows you’ll need lots and LOTS of diversions to keep you from become a raving lunatic as you take everything you own and stuff it into cardboard. And if the diversions involve food, and cocktails? Bring ‘em on!
Since I made my big announcement and the expiration date was stamped on fanny, I’ve been wine and dined, brunch and lunched, and even cupcaked by my wonderful friends. And before my expiration date is reached, I want to thank them ALL for the laughs, and the tissues, and everything else in between. Yes, the goodbyes can be hard, but they are not forever. We’ve been through so many ups and downs together we’d need witness protection to keep us apart for good. So let’s just say “I’ll see you soon”. Hood River is a beautiful vacation spot you know, and I hear the food at Chez Karin-West is pretty good…
The first time I saw Pasta al Forno it was in a photograph on a cell phone. The second and third time I saw it, it was too. That’s because it was a favorite childhood dish of one of my best friends, and after the third not so subtle hint, I knew I had to find a recipe and make it for him before I moved. A search of the internet ensued, and with the help of Google Translate and a little guessing, I came up with the recipe below. When I served it to my friend we both agreed, all that hinting was definitely worth it!
Pasta al Forno
Pasta al Forno alla siciliano is a dish usually served on special occasions like Easter, Christmas or big family gatherings in Sicily. For the purists out there with Nonnas who have been making this for years, let me be the first to say my version is a little less traditional and a little more interpretive. The good thing is this is the type of recipe where you have a lot of wiggle room in the ingredients that go in it. Pasta al Forno is a baked pasta dish traditionally made with a type of dried pasta called anelleti or little rings, but you could easily use penne or another dry tube pasta instead. The finished dish is a wonderful “cake” filled with pasta, sauce, cheese, eggplant, cubes of mortadella or ham, sometimes peas, and in some variations, even hard-boiled eggs. Since all of the final ingredients are already cooked before the final assembly and baking, it’s a perfect dish to do ahead. Best of all, you could serve it hot or at room temperature, making it a great dish to bring to a picnic or the beach and feed a hungry crowd.
When I made this dish, I used both my 10” and my 8” spring form pans, since I wanted to send the small one home with my friend. I would think this recipe would easily fill a large 12” spring form, or if you didn’t have one, a large lasagna pan would work.
Pasta al Forno
- 4-5 cups tomato sauce with meat*
*You could certainly make your own from scratch, or you could do what I did and use a favorite jarred sauce as a base, then doctor it up. I sautéed onion, carrots and garlic, a good pinch of marjoram, and about a half pound each of browned ground beef and sweet Italian pork sausage. Then I added a jar of my favorite marinara, a good splash of wine, and a can of Italian cherry tomatoes, mashed up a bit. I brought it up to a boil, turned down to a simmer and cooked, covered, for about 30 minutes.
- 1 ¼ lbs anelleti or other tube-shaped pasta like penne
- 1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut up into 1” chunks
- ½ lb (in one large piece) mortadella or ham
- ½ lb fresh mozzarella balls (boccocini)
- 1 cup frozen baby peas (optional)
- ½ lb whole milk mozzarella, cut into thin slices
While the sauce is simmering, sauté the eggplant in a little olive oil (you could also roast it) and set it aside. Cut up the mortadella or ham into 1-inch cubes, and slice the boccocini in half.
Prepare the pasta according to package, cooking it to just al dente. It is going to cook a little more in the oven and you don’t want mushy pasta.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Combine the pasta, eggplant, cubed mortadella or ham, boccocini, peas (if you are using) and 4 cups of sauce in a large bowl. Generously butter or oil the bottom and sides of your baking pan. Fill with the pasta mixture and smooth out so it fills completely. Top with slices of mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil.
Place the spring form on a cookie sheet (makes it easier to get in and out of oven) and bake 15-20 minutes until the cheese is melted and slightly browned. Let rest about 10 minutes, then carefully unmold the pan. Cut into wedges and serve with the remaining tomato sauce on the side.
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