Pasta bake with bechamel sauce

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I am a huge pasta lover. I mean really huge. I mean I could eat pasta 7 days per week. Luckily I am not so my silhouette can be appreciated by thousands of female fans around the world. Yeah…right…and then I woke up.

Back to the point now: there are times that I am craving something more elaborate than a spaghetti dish with a sauce. Pasta in the oven with some creamy bechamel on top. But it needs something more than pasta with cream so why not add vegetables in a tomato sauce? A few pieces of lardons or pancetta here and there and we are ready to go.

It’s a dish that will impress family and friends. It is also a great leftover for next day’s lunch.

Let’s go then!

Ingredients (serves 4 people):

  • 500 gr (1 lb) penne or ziti pasta.

  • 2 aubergines cut in small cubes.

  • 2 courgettes cut in small cubes.

  • 1 red pepper finely chopped.

  • 1 finely chopped onion.

  • 3 finely-chopped garlic cloves.

  • 1 chilli pepper chopped.

  • 100 gr (0.22 lb) lardons or pancetta cubes

  • 4 sweet and juicy tomatoes.

  • 3 teaspoons tomato paste.

  • A bunch of finely-chopped flat-leaf parsley.

  • ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil.

  • Salt and ground pepper.

  • 100 gr (0.22 lb) shredded mozzarella cheese.

  • 100 gr (0.22 lb) other shredded Gouda or Gruyère cheese.

For the bechamel sauce:

  • 750 ml (26 fl oz) of milk.

  • 2 table spoons of butter.
  • 50 gr (1.7 oz) plain white flour.

  • ½ teaspoon of nutmeg.

Add the olive oil in a large frying pan and warm up in medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, courgettes, peppers and aubergines and mildly fry them until softened. I prefer it when the vegetables are cut into similar sizes, it’s easier to get the full taste of the dish in your mouth. Add the lardons or pancetta and let it cook for ~ 5 minutes.

Ziti in the oven with vegetables

Preparing the sauce

Chop the tomatoes in large pieces and put them in a blender. Add the tomatoes from the blender to the pan, together with tomato paste and ½ cup of hot water. Add salt and ground pepper, stir well and let it cook in medium-low heat until the juices have reduced. Just before you you turn the heat off, add the parsley and give it a stir.

Melt your butter on a medium heat, add the flour and using a whisker stir until the flour and milk make a paste, slowly add your milk to the pan stirring it all the time. Add two eggs to the mixture and continue stirring constantly in one direction. Add a pinch of salt pepper and nutmeg and finally add your cheeses, and bring to a gently simmer. Do not allow it to boil and bubble as the sauce will break. That’s it bechamel sauce ready.

Penne with vegetables and tomato in the oven

Ready for the oven.

Boil the penne or ziti pasta in salted water with a drop of olive oil and follow the box instructions for the exact time to be “al dente”. Since they will also cook in the oven, you can take them out 1-2 minutes before. Drain the pasta and keep it apart.

In a large baking tray, add the boiled pasta and the mixture from the pan. Toss it well so the sauce is well incorporated with the pasta. Add the cheeses and give it another toss. Spread the creamy bechamel sauce on top of the pasta.

Place the tray in a preheated oven and cook for ~ 30 minutes at 190 degrees Celsius (370F) until golden brown. When you take the tray out, let it rest for ~ 10 minutes and serve it hot.

Ziti with bechamel sauce

What a beauty!

Bon appetit!

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