Baked pasta; pasta al forno alla Tranese.
Baking is one of my favourite ways to cook pasta (Italians say pasta al forno- in the oven). Of course I love other pasta recipes, especially different pesto sauces and seafood pasta dishes, but baked pasta has long been a firm favourite of mine and I love discovering different recipes for it. Interestingly, baked pasta isn’t commonly served in restaurants here where I live in Northern Italy; apart from lasagne al forno. It is, however, a very popular way of serving pasta at home, especially on Sundays or feast days. And most Italian regions have their own particular baked pasta recipes.
On a recent search for an original recipe for baked pasta, I came across this recipe called ‘alla Tranese’ supposedly from Trani, a historic fishing port in Puglia, southern Italy, between Bari and Barletta on the Adriatic coast. I say supposedly because there seem to be differing versions of this recipe. The one I cooked includes stracciatella, a delicious soft creamy cheese, with a decidedly sweet taste which is in fact better-known as the interior, and in my opinion, the best part and the most tasty of burrata. Other versions use mozzarella and others only include grated pecorino and parmesan.
The main feature of this Tranese recipe common to all the versions I found was the use of raw tomatoes which have been cut up and left to marinate in salt, garlic and basil prior to being used in the baking. These tomatoes aren’t cooked before the pasta dish goes into the oven and are either mixed with the half-cooked pasta in the oven dish or, as in the case of my recipe, used for the top layer of the dish.
I think the inclusion of stracciatella and that layer of raw marinated tomatoes, made this one of the best baked pastas I have eaten in a long time. I’m sure you’ll feel the same if you try it! You can use any medium sized tube pasta. I used mezzi paccheri rigate, meaning half paccheri with grooves, but rigatoni or maccheroni would work well too. Do let me know how it turns out!
- 500g of ripe red cherry tomatoes (or datterini)
- 4-5 basil leaves
- 500 g of grooved tube pasta (I used mezzi paccheri rigate)
- 300 g fresh stracciatella
- 45 g grated pecorino
- 45 g grated parmesan
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- breadcrumbs as required
- pepper to taste
- For the tomato sauce
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, peeled and chopped
- 500g of ripe tomatoes blanched, peeled and deseeded or 1 bottle 700 g passata ( I prefer to use passata rustica which is thicker than classic passata)
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- Salt to taste..
- For the sauce
- Fry the chopped onion in a little olive oil until translucent
- Add the passata or blanched tomatoes, a pinch of salt and the sugar to reduce the acidity
- Cook over a medium heat for 15-20 minutes.
- For the main dish
- Halve the other 500 grams of tomatoes and put them to marinate in a bowl with the crushed garlic, basil and a pinch of salt.
- Half cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water, drain and mix with the tomato sauce after keeping aside enough sauce to layer the bottom of your oven dish.
- Ladle the saved sauce into the bottom of an oven dish (earthenware is traditional if you have one).
- Spread a layer of pasta with sauce and season with pecorino and parmesan cheese and half the stracciatella cut into pieces.
- Add a second layer of pasta, seasoned with cheese (pecorino, parmesan and stracciatella) and finish with a layer of pasta.
- Cover the last layer with the marinated cherry tomatoes, garlic and basil
- Sprinkle breadcrumbs and some more grated cheese on top, drizzle with olive oil.
- Bake at 180 degrees for 45 minutes until you will have formed a nice crust on the well-roasted tomatoes.
- Remove from oven, let stand and serve.
- Buon Appetito!
- You can use any medium sized tube pasta. I used mezzi paccheri rigate, meaning half paccheri with grooves, but rigatoni or maccheroni would work well too, especially the larger ones.