piquant smoked paprika pasta bake
I can’t get enough of baked pasta. There are far fancier things to eat for dinner but almost nothing that is more comforting. Sauce bubbling at the edges, a crisp golden top. This pasta bake has its heart in Italy but has borrowed a few Spanish flavours too. It is made often. The pasta goes into the bake uncooked here, saving a little time.
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
1 large white onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 bulb of fennel, finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
a small bunch of parsley, roughly chopped
3 red peppers from a jar, sliced and chopped
40g green olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 ½ tablespoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
400g pasta (penne, fusilli, conchiglie, casarecce)
1 teaspoon vegetable stock powder or 400ml hot vegetable stock
for the topping
30g Manchego or vegan cheese, finely grated
Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6.
Grease a 20cm x 30cm deep baking dish with olive oil. Toss the onion, fennel, garlic and fennel seeds in the baking dish with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and half a teaspoon of flaky sea salt and place in the hot oven for 15 minutes until starting to soften but not yet colouring.
While the onions and fennel are cooking in the oven, get your other ingredients together and boil the kettle.
Keep a handful of parsley back for the breadcrumb topping and add the remaining ingredients, except the vegetable stock powder, to the baking dish with the onions and fennel. Season well with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Put the stock powder into a measuring jug and top with 400ml hot water from the kettle. Pour over the filled baking tray, so the liquid comes to just below the level of the pasta. Cover the tray tightly with foil and return to the oven for 45 minutes.
Mix the breadcrumbs and Manchego together with the reserved parsley.
After the pasta has had its time in the oven, lift it out, remove the foil and scatter the breadcrumb mix over the top. Return to the oven for 10-12 minutes until golden and crisp on top. Allow the pasta bake to rest out of the oven for at least 10 minutes before serving. This will help the sauce to thicken (and the pasta won’t burn your mouth as you eat it!).