This dish from the Plenty More cookbook is a variation on “Baked Ziti“, the classic Italian-American oven dish.
Baked Ziti basically is a casserole consisting of pasta tossed in a basic red tomato sauce – often with meatballs – then topped with a significant amount of cheese(s) and put under a hot grill until the cheese is golden brown and the top layer of pasta is slighty crunchy.
It’s pretty easy to make and I have always loved these type of oven bakes. Obviously, Ottolenghi does manage to elevate the dish by adding vegetables, spices, loads of fresh herbs and include feta as one of the cheeses. Especially, the addition of cumin and caraway gives it an interesting Middle Eastern twist whilst still capturing the essence of the dish.
I don’t think that I have ever seen ziti pasta available here in The Netherlands, but it is a smooth hollow pasta, the size of spagetti. Customary, the ziti is broken in four pieces before cooking. Therefore, as an alternative, you can use penne rigate (as indicated by Ottolenghi) or long maccheroni.
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1½ tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp caraway seeds
- 2 small onions, roughly chopped
- 2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1½ tsp caster sugar
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 800g large ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 1 red chilli, finely chopped
- salt and black pepper
- 15g / ½ cup fresh basil, finely chopped
- 10g / 1/3 cup fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 500g / 18oz penne rigate
- 150g / 5oz Parmesan, coarsely grated
- 150g / 5oz mature Cheddar, coarsely grated
- 150g / 5oz feta, broken into chunks
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Sauté the cumin and caraway seeds, onion and celery on a high heat until the onion is softening
- Add the sugar, dried oregano and tomato paste, cook for another minute, stirring occasionally, then add the tomatoes, chilli and season with 1½ tsp of salt and plenty of pepper.
- Reduce the heat and leave the sauce to simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the basil, oregano and garlic, stir through and set aside.
- In the meantime, cook the pasta until al dente according the instructions on the package and, separately, mix the Parmesan and Cheddar.
- Drain the pasta and combine with the tomato sauce and 1/3 of the cheese mixture.
- Transfer to a shallow ovenproof dish (I used one 20×30 cm) and push the feta chunks into the pasta and sprinkle over the remaining cheese mixture.
- Pace under a medium-hot grill until the cheese melts and the top layer of pasta dries out and turns crispy. It may take anywhere between 8 and 15 minutes. Keep a close eye though!