My mother-in-law Angela’s family’s version of this southern Italian classic was always a rather simple but satisfying one: tomato sauce flavoured with garlic and basil, layered with cheese (scamorza was always their favourite, but you can also use mozzarella), and, of course, ziti: long thick tubes of pasta. But the way you’ll often find it alla Pugliese is with the hearty additions of lots of little polpettine (hazelnut-sized meatballs), or sometimes even slices of hard-boiled egg, sausage, prosciutto or mortadella.
I like to stick to the family’s simple version with tomato, basil and scamorza for a weeknight meal.
Ziti Al Forno (Baked Ziti)
80ml (2 ½ fl oz, ⅓ cup) extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
400g (14 oz) tomato passata (puréed tomatoes)
Handful of fresh basil leaves
300g (10 ½ oz) ziti
250 g (9 oz) scamorza or mozzarella, thinly sliced
50g (1 ⅓ oz) pecorino, grated
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
In the meantime, begin preparing a tomato sauce by heating 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a saucepan over a low, gentle heat. Add the garlic clove and infuse the oil for a couple of minutes, then add the passatta and about 250 ml (8 ½ fl oz/1 cup) water. Season with some salt and pepper and bring the sauce to a steady simmer over a medium heat. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced and thickened slightly. Just before taking off the heat, add about 5-6 basil leaves. Set aside until needed.
Once the pot of water is boiling, add the ziti (they are rather long, so break them in half if necessary to fit them in the pot). Cook until al dente, referring to the packet instructions (minus 1 or 2 minutes of cooking time). Drain and toss the ziti with the sauce until well coated.
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
To a 20 x 30cm (8 x 12 in) baking dish, add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and about 2 tablespoons of the tomato sauce. Now add half the ziti and (if using) scatter over half of the sausage – broken up into small pieces and, if you like, rolled into small meatballs – half of the scamorza and half of the pecorino. Repeat with ziti, sausage and cheese, finishing with the remaining olive oil.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until you can see the sauce bubbling around the edges and the top has formed a nice golden crust.
This is an edited extract from Tortellini at Midnight by Emiko Davies. Available from Hardie Grant Books.