STEPS 10, INGREDIENTS 11, TIME 1-2 HRS (depending on ingredients)
This baked pasta recipe is a real ‘circle of taste’.
It’s called ‘pasticcio di ricotta e melanzane’ (which means a ‘pastiche’ of ricotta and eggplant).
It rules because it employs one of Italy’s killer-ingredient combos: eggplant (aubergine), tomato, ricotta cheese and basil. Mmmm… I reckon it’ll impress anyone you serve it to!
And… this baked pasta recipe is a flexible beast. Here’s why:
• If you are vegetarian, or want to make the quickest version, you can leave out the meatballs.
• If you love your meat, use a ragu or meat lasagna style sauce to ‘up the carnivorous ante’.
• Use packet tagliatelle or scrummy fresh pasta (make this here).
So that’s why you should make this baked pasta recipe. Now let’s get in the ring…
Ingredients: (For a printable baked pasta recipe PDF shopping list, click here, or right-click this link and choose ‘Save target/link as’ to save the list for later.)
300g/10.5oz of packet tagliatelle pasta OR 3-eggs’ worth of fresh tagliatelle (recommended)
800g/28oz long, thin eggplants/aubergines
250g/8.8oz tub of ricotta cheese
75g/2.5oz grated parmesan cheese (or dried from tub)
Half a 200g/7oz ball of fresh mozzarella cheese (provola and scamorza also work)
Extra virgin olive oil
For the sauce (required)
x2 400g/14oz tins of plum tomatoes
One medium onion (ideally red)
20 fresh basil leaves
For optional meatballs
200g/7oz crusty bread (a little stale if possible – but not mouldy!)
100g/3.5oz minced/ground beef
Tub/tin of dried breadcrumbs (for top-up)
For optional fresh pasta
Bag of plain/regular flour (ideally superfine type zero)
Large deep pan (for boiling pasta)
Circular cake tin
Absorbent kitchen roll/paper
STEP 1 – If you are making fresh pasta for this dish, make this first (click here). Allow roughly 20 minutes.
If using packet pasta: move straight onto step 2.
STEP 2 – Make your basic tomato sauce. Use the sauce ingredients above and follow the following mini-steps (also explained here):
– Peel and finely chop the onion. Wash and tear the 20 basil leaves.
– Cover half the frying pan in olive oil and place a low/medium heat hob. Heat for 2-3 mins until hot. (Don’t burn the oil – if it smokes, start again.)
– When the oil’ hot, throw in the onion and basil. Cook gently for 2 or 3 mins (softening these).
Meat option: If you’re not including meatballs, you could throw in some chopped or pancetta bacon now. Just fry it all for an extra 4-5 mins (until the onion and bacon begin to brown).
– Throw in the 2 tins of toms, along with a few pinches of salt (one for each plum tomato)
– Cover the pan and leave it simmering away for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
– Then break up the toms with a spoon, take the lid off, and leave simmering for 10-15 minutes more (until most of the liquid has disappeared). Done.
STEP 3 – With the sauce done, take it off the heat.
Now we have the option of adding meatballs. If you fancy this and have the ingredients mentioned above, click here to make these balls. But be sure to make small half-inch balls. Then see below for step 4.
(Vegetarian? Head straight to step 5)
STEP 4 – Fry the meatballs in vegetable/frying oil, in a medium heat frying pan, for 8-10 minutes – until they brown all over.
STEP 5 – Using a strong vegetable/potato peeler peel the skin off the eggplants.
– Prepare a sink of cold salted water.
– Using the knife carefully, slice the eggplants into long strips, ideally just a half-centimetre thick, and drop these into the water as you go. (This water stops the eggplants browning in the air and it sucks out any sourness.)
– While you have the knife, chop the mozzarella into thin slices.
STEP 6 – Now we’re gonna fry some eggplant!
– Pour more frying oil into the frying pan, until 1cm deep, and pop on a medium/strong heat until hot.
– Grab a handful of eggplant slices and really squeeze out any excess water. (It can also help to wipe with kitchen paper to really try and dry these out.)
– Using just enough slices to almost fill the pan, fry the first batch of slices until they are a medium brown (not fully dark). Turn them regularly.
– When done, place each fried batch on a piece of kitchen paper-towel – to absorb the oil.
– Grab the second batch of slices from the kitchen towel, and fry these the same way. While they are frying, grab another handful, rinse, squeeze and wipe down to dry.
– Repeat (and repeat!) until you have a pile of fried eggplant slices, divided by layers of kitchen paper.
STEP 7 – Grab your circular cake tin/dish and layer eggplant slices from the inside out until it is covered all the way round.
Fill any patchy gaps with some of the remaining slices (if there are still slices left over, don’t worry).
Note: Don’t worry if these slices rise above the edge of the tin.
STEP 8 – Using a mixing bowl, mash up the ricotta with a fork.
Mix in half the tomato sauce, along with 4 teaspoons of grated parmesan cheese.
STEP 9 – Cook the pasta in a large pan of salted water. Also add a glug of olive oil to stop the tagliatelle sticking.
Note: If using packet pasta, cook as per its packet’s instructions (likely around 10 minutes). If using fresh pasta, boil until it rises then just a minute more.
Rinse when cooked using a colander/sieve.
STEP 10 – Let’s fill this baked pasta recipe’s ring!
– Mix the tagliatelle with the ricotta mixture in the bowl, then use forks to place half the pasta in the eggplant ring. Be sure to press it all down to compact it.
– Place a ring of mozzarella slices on top, all the way around.
– Add most of the mini meatballs (polpettine) and the rest (or most) of the tomato sauce. Drizzle over another teaspoon of parmesan, and again press it all down in the tin.
– Fill the remaining depth with the rest of the tagliatelle, dot around the remaining meatballs on top, and finish off with another teaspoon or two of parmesan.
Eggplant slices still sticking out of the top? Use your fingers to fold these over. Also, add on any remaining slices to make a top layer.
– Bake in the oven for 20 minutes at 180C/350º fahrenheit.
Done! Yes this baked pasta recipe took a while, but just wait ‘til you taste it!
To serve: Take the tin out of the oven and cover with the eating side of a large plate. Then just flip it all over and the pasta treat should fall out, leaving you with a wholesome ring of eggplanty deliciousness.
Serve with crusty bread and good red wine (my favourite of the moment is Sicilian ‘Nero D’Avola’).
You can revamp this baked pasta recipe in future by using zucchini (courgettes) with an olive and caper tomato sauce – rather than eggplant with ricotta and basil.