“My mum would make baked pasta for us a lot when we were kids,” writes Julia Busuttil Nishimura in her new book A Year of Simple Family Food. “I can remember it so clearly. She would cut into it at the table and serve large squares onto our plates. I think she made it because it was, of course, delicious, but also incredibly simple, affordable and comforting, too. I usually prefer oven-cooked food during the week, because it can be happily cooking away while I attend to other things. This version is a little different to the traditional Maltese one I grew up eating – it’s considerably lighter and meat-free (although the addition of a few pork and fennel sausages squeezed from their casing, rolled into small meatballs and fried off with the garlic is delicious, too). It’s a perfect meal for when the fridge is looking a little bare.”
3 tbsp tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1.2 kg canned whole peeled tomatoes
Small handful of basil leaves
500 g dried short pasta, such as rigatoni, macaroni or penne
300 g buffalo mozzarella or fior di latte, roughly torn
200 g mozzarella, grated
50 g parmesan or pecorino, grated
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a 23 cm baking dish with butter.
Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan over a low–medium heat. Add the onion and a pinch of salt and gently cook for around 10 minutes until soft and sweet. Add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and basil and simmer for 15 minutes, breaking up the tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. Season to taste.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in a large saucepan of generously salted boiling water for half the cooking time instructed on the packet. Drain and stir the pasta through the sauce along with both types of mozzarella.
Tumble the pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish. Scatter over the parmesan and bake for 15–20 minutes or until the pasta is tender and the edges are bubbling. If the top is browning too fast, cover with foil. This is delicious served hot, but equally as lovely warm.
This is an extract from A Year of Simple Family Food by Julia Busuttil Nishimura, published by Plum (RRP $39.99). Available from 25 August 2020.