Baking pasta in a suitable sauce is a great way of taking it to new levels of deliciousness and provides a refreshing alternative to simply serving it boiled with a sauce poured over the top. This is not a difficult dish to prepare but it is very important to cook the pasta and sauce beforehand and allow them to cool completely before they are subsequently baked. Cream based sauces also work very well in a dish like this and chicken in such instances would make an excellent alternative to beef, perhaps cut in to small, bite sized pieces rather than ground. Virtually any pasta could be used instead of the tagliatelle, with pasta shells or spirals proving a lot easier to stir through the sauce.
Ingredients (Serves 2)
- ½ pound ground (minced) beef
- Salt and pepper
- ½ medium onion
- ½ red bell pepper
- ½ yellow bell pepper
- 1 medium size and strength green chili
- 1 large garlic clove
- 8 ounce can chopped tomatoes in tomato juice
- 4 small nests dried tagliatelle pasta
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley
- 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons shredded/coarsely grated cheddar cheese
- 2 handfuls watercress ( or similar green leaves)
- 6 baby plum tomatoes
- ½ small red onion
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Put the ground beef in to a large pot and season with salt and pepper. Put the pot on to a very low heat and break the beef up with a wooden spoon. Keep working it for two or three minutes until it is separated and evenly browned. Note that provided you start it off on a low enough heat, there is no need to add any additional fat or oil as the melting fat in the beef will prevent it sticking.
Slice the peeled onion half and add it to the pot with the beef. Peel the garlic clove and grate it in to the pot with a small hand grater. Turn up the heat slightly and stir fry for another couple of minutes until the separated onion strands are just softened and have taken on a glistening quality.
Seed the bell pepper halves and slice to a width of around half an inch before adding to the pot. Pour in the canned tomatoes. Slice the chili in to discs before adding it also to the mix.
Stir everything well and bring the combination to as gentle a simmer as possible for fifteen to twenty minutes. Carefully taste at the end of this cooking period and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Dried tagliatelle often comes in small nests. In this instance, two nests were required per person but the size of the nests can vary so use your best judgement. They should be added to a pot of boiling, heavily salted water and brought to a simmer for eight minutes.
When the tagliatelle is cooked, drain it through a colander before adding it to the spicy beef. It is important to combine the two while they are hot as the pasta will firm up as it cools and be more difficult to stir through the meaty sauce.
Add the parsley to the pot and stir well to ensure everything is fully combined.
Cover the pot and set aside to cool completely.
Fresh breadcrumbs can be bought in packs from many supermarkets but it's equally possible to make them very easily at home, perhaps even as a means of using up stale bread which would otherwise go to waste. It's important that the bread be a couple of days old and not too moist. Simply tear three or four slices in to large pieces and pulse blitz them in a blender or food processor until done. Pour them in to a large bowl before adding the cheese and seasoning with black pepper only. Stir well.
Put your oven on to preheat to 375F/190C/Gas Mark 5.
Tip the cooled beef and pasta in to a large casserole dish and spread it out evenly.
Scatter the breadcrumbs and cheese evenly over the pasta mix, trying to ensure it is fully covered. Put the uncovered dish in to your heated oven for fifteen minutes.
While the pasta is in the oven, you should use some of the time to prepare your accompanying salad. If you can't get or don't want to use watercress, arugula (rocket) or peashoots would make excellent alternatives. Add the green element of your salad to a colander along with the plum tomatoes and wash thoroughly under running cold water.
Shake the salad leaves dry and dry the tomatoes with kitchen paper. Cut the tomatoes in half down through the center. Slice the peeled red onion half across the way that the slices can subsequently be separated in to strands.
Put the watercress, tomato halves and onion slices in to a large bowl. Drizzle over the extra virgin olive oil and the balsamic vinegar before carefully tossing or stir folding to ensure even coating.
When the pasta bake is ready, you have the option of lightly toasting it for a minute or so only under your broiler (kitchen grill) to give it an extra little bit of color and crunch before it is served. Lift half the pasta bake to each of two serving plates with a large slotted spoon and serve the salad alongside.