This pasta has a comforting familiarity (Cheese! Noodles! Tomatoes!), but with a different flavour profile to mix it up a bit (Feta! Chile! Cumin!). It’s a lovely dish for someone who likes their pasta to be presented in a more adult format or who sees themselves as one who prefers the fancier things in life. Plus, despite all of the cheese, it somehow manages to NOT be obnoxiously cheesy therefore fluidly crossing the line between “acceptable adult potluck” fare and “feed this to a child for the purpose of trickery” fare. Oh, yeah, it was also created by the genius mind of Ottolenghi, who has never once led me astray in cooking, despite my constant shunning of his unnecessarily detailed chopping instructions.
Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi (Plenty More)
3 tbsp olive oil + extra to drizzle
2 small onions, diced
3 celery stalks, finely diced and tough ends discarded
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
1 ½ tsp white sugar
2 tbsp tomato paste
8 large ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 red chile, finely chopped (seeded if you want to lessen the heat, or leave it out entirely)
1 ½ tsp kosher salt + more to taste
¼ cup chopped basil leaves (loosely packed)
¼ cup chopped fresh oregano leaves (loosely packed)
2 cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped
1 lb (500 gr) ziti or penne pasta (if using penne, try to get the smooth ‘lisce’ noodles instead of the ridged ‘rigate’ ones)
1 ¾ cups grated parmesan
1 ¼ cups grated aged cheddar
¾ cup crumbled feta
Handful/scoop of any leftover creamy things in your fridge (such as ricotta, crème fraiche, cream cheese, mascarpone) – optional
Place the olive oil in a large pot or deep skillet set over medium heat. Saute the onions, celery, cumin, and dried oregano in the oil for ~8 minutes, or until the onions are fragrant and lightly coloured. Add the sugar and tomato paste, then cook for another minute before adding the tomatoes, chile, salt, and a good grind of black pepper. Turn the heat up to a vigourous simmer, then lower it back down to medium and simmer gently for 20 minutes. The sauce will still be fairly soupy, but I prefer it this way since the pasta has lots of delicious juice to soak up and it keeps the leftovers moist. Stir in the fresh basil, oregano, and garlic. Taste and decide if the sauce needs any more salt or pepper. Set the sauce aside until ready to use.
Preheat the broiler and set a rack close beneath it. Set a large pot of well-salted water to boil over high heat. Cook the ziti/penne, stirring occasionally until the noodles are al dente (check the cooking instructions on the package). Drain and then add to the tomato sauce along with half the parmesan, half the cheddar, and all of the wonderful creamy add-ins you’re using (if any). Stir to incorporate then transfer the pasta to a shallow, greased baking dish. Dot the feta on top and scatter the remaining cheeses over. Broil for 8-12 minutes, or until the cheeses have melted and the noodles on top have dried and become crispy. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. Drizzle with a touch of olive oil. Eat far too quickly.