Rich Oven-baked Vegetable Pasta Pasta Imbottita con vegetali al Forno

Serves 8/10

600g large rigatoni
salt and pepper

Tomato sauce

2 large onions, peeled and finely chopped
100ml olive oil
1.5kg tomato pulp (polpa di pomodoro) or canned chopped tomatoes
10 basil leaves, shredded

2 aubergines, cut in 8mm thick slices lengthwise
2 courgettes, cut in 8mm thick slices lengthwise
plain flour, to dust
6 eggs
olive oil, for shallow-frying
1 recipe spinach balls (see page 24)
8 whole baby courgettes, trimmed
2 fennel bulbs, trimmed
600g melting cheese, like Fontina, Bel Paese, Taleggio, cut into little chunks
200g Parmesan, freshly grated

Not long ago I had the enviable task of cooking a famous timbale for a BBC TV documentary about the Sicilian Principe di Salina, Tomasi di Lampedusa (Il Gattopardo or Leopard). The historical recipe turned out to be a triumph, but was a little too elaborate for this book. So I have devised this dish instead, which requires a little bit of work and should probably be made for celebrations and special occasions. To make life simpler you can prepare it the day before serving.

Make the tomato sauce first by frying the onion in the olive oil until soft, about 5-6 minutes.  Add the tomato and basil and cook gently for 20-30 minutes.  Season with salt and set aside.

For the filling, dust the aubergine and courgette slices with flour.  Beat 4 of the eggs together, and dip the vegetable slices in this.  Pour enough olive oil into a large pan to cover the base generously and heat gently. Shallow-fry the vegetable slices, a few at a time until golden, about 3-4 minutes on each side. Set both vegetables and oil aside. If you haven’t cooked them in advance, the spinach balls can be cooked in this oil.

Meanwhile, boil the baby courgette, the fennel bulbs in lightly salted water until al dente, about 6-7 minutes.  Drain well, and cut into slices.

Now cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al dente, about 5-6 minutes. Drain and mix with little of the sauce.  Preheat the oven to 200ºC/Gas 6.

In a baking tray or dish, now assemble all the ingredients.  First put a layer of pasta on the bottom on which you distribute slices of aubergine and courgette, slices of fennel the whole baby courgettes and a few spinach balls.  Sprinkle over some of the cheese chunks, some of the tomato sauce and some of the grated Parmesan.  Build a few layers according to the size of the baking tray, and finish on top with tomato sauce, a few chunks of cheese, a few spinach balls, and the remaining Parmesan.

Bake for 30-40 minutes in the preheated oven.  Let it rest for 10-15 minutes before serving, cut in squares. Wonderful…

This recipe is from Antonio Carluccio’s Simple Cooking