Introduction: Very Cheesy Tomato Pasta Bake

This is a recipe I first came up with many years ago at university with stuff I had lurking around. I've since had similar bakes in Italy, suggesting that these flavours are a classic combo!

Notes for American readers: although my measurements are in metric, they are all approximate, as I will (hopefully) make clear later, so don't worry.


Family sized baking dish or earthenware dish

2 pans – one large for pasta, one smaller for sauce


Approx. 500g penne rigate pasta *

1 tin of tomatoes (you can use already chopped, or whole plum. It's up to you)

1 large / 2 small white onions, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic

1 teaspoon crushed dried chilli flakes

Red wine vinegar

2-3 balls mozzarella balls, sliced up

75 g (or 4 big handfuls) Italian hard cheese, freshly grated **

Cooking oil

Salt and pepper

Optional: Herbs (e.g. basil). Dried or fresh

Ingredient notes:

* You don't have to use penne rigate. You can use any shape of pasta you have to hand e.g. fusilli (twists); spirelli (spirals); conchiglie (shells); farfalle (bows); orrechette etc. Anything that holds sauce in it is good.

The amount of pasta depends on the dish you will be using and the type of pasta. The best way to get the right amount is to pour the uncooked pasta into your baking dish. Fill it about 2/3 full. When the pasta is cooked, it should expand enough to fill the dish without overflowing. 500g is just the amount my dish holds (see picture!)

** Genuine parmesan (Parmigiana-Reggiano) and Grana Padano cheeses are designated protected designation of origin products by the EU. That means that they have to come from certain regions of Italy, and be made a particular way, which includes using calf rennet. As such genuine parmesan is NOT vegetarian. However a lot of supermarkets do excellent vegetarian versions, which get sold as "Italian hard cheese" or similar. This is the cheese you want to buy. In the US, the word 'parmesan' is not protected, and can be made with either calf rennet or vegetarian rennet. If you're keeping this vegetarian, make sure you check the labels when buying

This is a very adaptable recipe. If you want to add more chilli you can (this dish shouldn't be "blow your head off" spicy, just have a pleasing tingle). It works just as well whether you're using the best artisan pasta, San Marzano tomatoes and handmade Buffalo mozzarella, or whether you're on a budget and you're using value pasta, budget tomatoes and a cheapo block of pizza mozzarella. If you want to make it more tomato-ey, and less cheesy (but why?!?!?) you could double up the quantities of sauce.

Step 1: The Recipe


Before you start, set your oven to preheat at 190°C (gas mark 5/ 375°F).

1. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water according to the packet instructions.

2. When the pasta is cooked, drain it then leave it to stand, so that all the excess water evaporates away.


1. In your smaller pan, put a lug of cooking oil and your crushed chilli. Let the oil warm up a bit

(This allows the oils in dried chilli to start to flavour the oil a bit).

2. Add your onions and garlic and cook on a medium to low heat until soft and translucent.

3. Add your tinned tomatoes. If you're using whole tomatoes, use a spoon or fork to break them up.

(Optional: if you're using dried herbs, add them in at this point).

4. Simmer the sauce for about 20 minutes or so, until it is reduced and fairly dry. Be careful not to let it catch.

5. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.

(The reason you do it now, not when you start is because when the sauce concentrates, the salt can too, and it can get too salty).

This bit is important...

6. Put about a tablespoon of red wine vinegar in the sauce and mix it in. Taste the sauce. It should should be a little tart without being overpowering. If you need to add more vinegar, do so, a little at a time. Once you've got it tasting just perfect, now add a bit more vinegar. The cheese absorbs some of the acidity, so I find you need a bit more vinegar than you think you need.

Optional: If you're using fresh herbs, put them into the sauce at this point.

Assembling the bake

1. Mix the pasta and tomato sauce together.

If you have a really big pan, you might be able to do this in the pan. If, like me, your pan is a bit small to mix everything properly, it's far easier to tip half of the pasta and half of the sauce into your baking dish and give it a good stir. You should then have space in your big pan to mix the rest of the pasta and the rest of the sauce together.

2. Put half of your pasta into your baking dish.

3. Sprinkle half of the Italian hard cheese over your pasta.

4. Layer half of your mozzarella over the pasta.

5. Tip the other half of the pasta in to the dish and spread it out.

6. Sprinkle with the other half of the Italian hard cheese.

7. Layer with the other half of the mozzarella.

8. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes until the top is golden brown.

Now serve the cheesy goodness and enjoy!

In the unlikely event you have any left over, it's also good eaten cold.

Meat Free Meal Challenge

Participated in the
Meat Free Meal Challenge