The latter part of the summer usually brings a glut of tomatoes, indeed in my humble opinion, it is about the only time in the U.K. when it is worth eating them; I’ve never been a fan of the hard, sharp British or Dutch offerings. This year though, our own crop has unfortunately been written off by blight which has hit the allotment as a result of the recent damp weather…
So here is a dish that Italians use when tomatoes are so plentiful that they don’t know what to do with them all. It’s not fast food, but it most certainly is comfort food, and is now an established favourite at this time of the year in our household. The dish as described makes two to three generous portions.
I’m not sure what its proper name is, even assuming it has one – so the title is my own suggestion.
- Lots of very ripe or even over-ripe tomatoes – at least three or four per person. As always, San Marzano or similar are desirable, but even British tomatoes are usable with a little help (see below).
- Clove of garlic, finely chopped.
- A little sugar to judgement – if the tomatoes could be riper.
- salt and black pepper to taste.
- Two or three tablespoons of passata – more if the tomatoes are less than fully ripe. Quality makes all the difference – Cirio is the best; the sweetness of the tomatoes is needed for this sauce.
- Two tbsp olive oil
- Handful of torn basil leaves
- Penne pasta at about 50g per person. De Cecco recommended.
- Butter, milk and plain flour to make a béchamel sauce.
- One ball mozzarella.
- Parmesan for grating.
Pre-heat the oven to about 210°C.
Prepare the tomato sauce. To do this properly, skin and deseed the tomatoes (the former can be done easily by blanching them in boiling water for a couple of minutes, and then peeling). Chop them coarsely. (Tinned tomatoes can probably be used but at the cost of some texture freshness of taste; again Cirio are the best).
Put the oil, passata, sugar, salt, pepper, garlic, tomatoes and torn basil in a saucepan and place on a moderate heat. Simmer gently for perhaps 30 minutes until the sauce starts to reduce. Stick your head over the pan and inhale.
Towards the end of this time, par-boil the pasta – about 8 minutes is about right for 13-minute penne. Drain and mix with the tomato sauce.
While the pasta is cooking, prepare the béchamel sauce – enough will be needed to cover the oven pot being used. This will probably be about 100g butter, 2 tbsp. flour and enough milk to make a fairly loose sauce. Season as necessary.
Drain and chop the mozzarella into bite-sized cubes.
Assemble in an oven-proof dish: first pour in the pasta/tomato mix and spread out. Cover this with a layer of béchamel sauce. Scatter the cubes of mozzarella on top, add a few more basil leaves and grate parmesan cheese liberally over the top.
Cook in the oven for around 20 minutes, or until the top of the dish is nicely browned. It is worth allowing the dish to cool a little after removing from the oven, as the flavours come out better as a result.