In Naples, it is a sin to throw food away! What remains from left over dishes in Giuseppe's family, is either turned into new dishes (such as this Pasta al Forno) or fed to the family pig, which we turn into prosciutto every winter. The family pig and I are on tenuous terms ever since I accidentally fed him a metal spoon several months ago so I prefer to take the former tract, and make Pasta al Forno. Plus, why should the pig enjoy my lovingly braised ragu when all he does is glare and snort at me (I shall very much enjoy our winter sausage this year). If you too suffer the same predicament, or don't happen to have a family pig, I suggest you make this recipe for Pasta al Forno.
Pasta al Forno is a dish born of leftovers. Much like the Chinese use left over rice to make fried rice, Neapolitans use left over pasta to make Pasta al Forno. The best style of pasta to use for this dish is penne, rigatoni or ziti, generally from a pasta al ragù you have served the day before. Pasta al Forno is a baked pasta dish. It resembles lasagna in taste and texture but does not consists of layers and is thusly far easier to prepare and assemble. To start, we suggest you make our recipe for Neapolitan Ragù ,and the following day, if you are fortunate enough to have leftovers, prepare this Pasta al Forno. If you wish, Pasta al Forno can be easily frozen in a casserole dish, covered and frozen for later use.
Pasta al Forno
Serves 6 as primo or secondo
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 finely diced shallots or 1 finely diced Vidalia onion
1 finely diced garlic clove
½ cup red wine
8 oz can of peeled whole San Marzano tomatoes (or if you prefer any type of canned whole tomato that is neither fire roasted or pre-seasoned)
1 tablespoon oregano
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon butter
Leftover Penne Ragu brought to room temperature
4 oz fresh mozzarella cut into rounds (or torn rustically, which is what we do)
¼ cup grated Reggiano Parmesan (or Grana Padano)
6 whole basil leaves
Heat olive oil in a large 6 qt. heavy bottomed sauté pan over medium-high heat.
Add onions and sauté, stirring occasionally until the onions are softened and yellow (about 3 minutes).
And garlic, and sauté, stirring for about 1 minute (any longer and your garlic will singe, which is gross!)
Lower the heat to medium, add wine, stir and allow wine to reduce by one half.
Add whole tomatoes, one cup of water, oregano, bay leaf, salt and pepper.
Once your sauce has reached a boil, reduce heat to low and allow your tomato sauce to simmer uncovered for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon to break up tomatoes as they warm.
While your tomato sauce is simmering, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees and butter an oven safe casserole dish. The size of your dish will depend on how much penne ragù you have remaining. If you have a half portion remaining, use an 8” square casserole. The size of your casserole dish is not an exact science, in Naples we just use whatever we have!
When your sauced is finished simmering, remove the bay leaf and allow the sauce to cool slightly.
Place your left over penne ragù in buttered casserole dish and toss with tomato sauce.
Top with mozzarella and grated parmesan.
Bake in the middle portion of your oven for 25 minutes at 350, and then raise oven temperature to 400 and bake for an additional 3-5 minutes allowing the pasta to reach a nice golden, crispy brown.
Remove from oven, garnish with whole basil leaves according to your own artistic disposition.
Serve warm with bread.