Do you follow Jamie Oliver? I have loved him since his early days on, “The Naked Chef". In my early cooking days, I found his love for fresh ingredients and passion for cooking is contagious. Then came the 'Food Revolution' and his attempts to change the way school systems feed their children. It has brought changes to so many households, including our own. Did you know in Italy it is law that the ingredients in school lunches are organic? Seriously. I had to look that one up, not believing the first time I read it. The laws primarily apply to pasta and olive oil, but they also make a point to use mostly local produce, supporting local farmers and agriculture. How cool is that? Very cool, in my opinion. I found this pasta dish when looking through a list of vegetarian recipes on the Jamie Oliver site. It is a recipe he came across while traveling in Italy, visiting schools. This dish is served to Italian school children both as a hot and cold lunch. The day he visited it was served to 1,000 children!
We are halfway through our lunch box challenge for the year. I thought it would get harder as we got into the winter months, but luckily this has not been the case. I’ve started making more meals, like this baked pasta, that have leftovers. This has made our lunch making much easier. They’ll eat it hot or cold. If it’s good enough for the Italian children, it’s good enough for mine.
The red sauce in this recipe is divine. I now use it anytime I need a red sauce…over pasta, baguette pizzas. The simple list of ingredients give it a wonderful, fresh flavor.
Baked Pasta with Tomatoes and Mozzarella
14 oz whole wheat pasta–orcchiette or penne
2-3 tablespoons Extra virgin olive oil
1 white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 teaspoons chili powder (or 1-2 dried chilies, crumbled)
3 – 14 ounce cans diced tomatoes, including juice
2-3 tablespoons basil pesto (or 1 large handful fresh basil)
1 tablespoon balsamic or red wine vinegar
2 cups Parmesan, grated
3 – 5 ounce balls of mozzarella, sliced
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain and set aside.
Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add onion, garlic and chili. Saute for about 10 minutes on medium to low heat until onions are translucent. Add in the tomatoes, including juice. Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Using a food processor or immersion blender, process until sauce is smooth. Add in pesto (or fresh basil), vinegar and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Toss the pasta with half the tomato sauce.
Prepare a 9×13 or 8×8 baking dish by rubbing with olive oil. Layer a little pasta in the bottom of the baking dish, followed by a layer of tomato sauce, a handful of Parmesan and layer of sliced mozzarella. Continue layering until you’ve used all the ingredients, ending with a layer of cheese on top. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is golden brown and bubbling.
This is also a great dish for making ahead to freeze or for those times when you are taking a meal over to another family…vegetarian or not.
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Sharing her love for photography, cooking and adventures of mothering 3 boys, 'this homemade life', is a blog written by Alison Bickel.