Pasta bake is one of my favourite comfort foods. It’s easy, quick and sooo tasty. These oven baked paccheri stuffed with a rich but light ricotta and spinach filling are so good! The simple tomato sauce, prepared just with chopped tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil and onion blends perfectly with the filling. The key for a good pasta bake is using few but good quality ingredients. So, try to buy a good creamy but firm ricotta, fresh spinach, top quality chopped tomatoes (I used the Epicure chopped tomatoes that are delicious) , real extra virgin olive oil and a nice piece of Italian Parmesan cheese, not the store bought grated one. Sorry, but when it comes to good quality ingredients I’m quite strict. I believe that if you want to eat genuine and healthy food you have to use good ingredients. It’s like a mantra for me :-D!
How to cook THE perfect pasta bake
Once you have top quality ingredients cooking a pasta bake is very easy. The secret is to pre-boil the pasta. It doesn’t matter if you are cooking a lasagna or cannelloni or paccheri, the pasta must be pre-boiled in boiling salted water. Please, please, please use a BIG pot! When I see people boiling 500 grams of pasta in a pan the size of a milk jug I wanna scream! Pasta needs space and a lot of salted water…well not always a lot but at least the right amount of water. You should use 1 litre of water and 10 grams of sea salt for 100 grams of pasta. This is about a tablespoon of salt for 100 grams of pasta.
To pre-boil the pasta cook it for half the time suggested on the pack. Why? Because it will continue to cook in the oven. Moreover, if you cook it too much it will be soggy and you won’t be able to fill it easily.
So making a good stuffed pasta bake is very simple, just remember: top quality ingredients and perfectly pre-boiled pasta, that’s it!
Oven baked spinach and ricotta stuffed paccheri
Oven baked ricotta and spinach stuffed paccheri with a tasty tomato sauce and parmesan cheese.
- paccheri or big pasta shells like conchiglioni: 500 grams
- ricotta: 1 kilogram
- fresh spinach *: 400 grams
- Parmesan cheese , freshly grated: 100 grams
- chopped tomatoes: 2x250g cans
- onion: 1
- nutmeg , freshly grated to taste
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- extra virgin olive oil as needed
- Cheddar: 4 slices
- garlic: 1 clove
- unsalted butter: 50 grams
- The day before put the ricotta in a sieve over a bowl with a weight on top.Cover with cling film and set in the fridge. This will help to get rid of the liquid in excess.
- In a large pot of salted boiling water pre-boil the pasta for half the time suggested on the pack. I boiled mine for 7 minute instead of the suggested 14 minutes. It has to be really "al dente" because it will continue to cook the the oven. Drain the pasta and mix it with a couple of spoons of oil and set aside.
- Next prepare the filling. Wash thoroughly the spinach and blanch in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, drain and squeeze very well. Melt a knob of butter in a pan add the whole garlic clove slightly pressed and the spinach and cook on high heat for a couple of minutes, season with salt and pepper and cook for another couple of minutes. Discard the garlic and squeeze the spinach thoroughly again. Transfer them on cutting board and chop using a big knife.
- Put the drained ricotta in a big bowl, add the chopped spinach, 50 grams of grated Parmesan, season with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg and mix well. Transfer the filling in a piping bag with a round nozzle and set into the fridge.
- Slice the onion, add it into a pan with some oil and sauté for a couple of minutes. Pour the chopped tomatoes, season with salt and cook on medium heat until you have a thick sauce. Let it cool down a little then blend it using a hand blender.
- Oil an oven proof dish big enough to contain the paccheri, spread about half of the tomato sauce on the bottom, one by one fill the paccheri with the ricotta filling and place them standing up in the dish.
- Cut the cheddar slices into small pieces and place them between the paccheri.
- Pour the remaining sauce over the pasta, sprinkle with the rest of the Parmesan, adda few pieces of butter and cook into the preheated oven to 180°C for about 20-30 minutes or until golden and crispy.
* or 200 grams frozen