This smoky Spanish Chorizo and red pepper pasta bake is a winning combination for a complete weeknight meal.
Pasta Bakes are popular throughout the English-speaking world for their ease and supposed unfussiness. However, while many Italians wouldn’t consider them a part of their beloved cuisine, the Italians do have their own baked pasta dish called Pasta al Forno, literally meaning pasta to the oven. The dish uses short pasta such as penne, covered in bechamel and tomato sauce, and then baked in the oven.
Pasta for Chorizo and Red Pepper Pasta Bake
Pasta cooks in liquid. In boiling salted water, most dried kinds of pasta cook within 10-12 minutes. Some recipes call for precooking pasta before putting it in the oven because it speeds up the cooking process. However, this step can be skipped. Pasta will cook in the dry heat of an oven if there is enough sauce.
One benefit of precooking pasta is in the sauce. Dried pasta absorbs water as it cooks, which may dry out the pasta bake as it bakes. But cooking dried pasta in the oven forces the pasta to expand and stick together, giving the pasta bake a packed texture that sticks together when serving.
Chorizo is a spiced cured pork sausage from Spain. Its preparation varies considerably, and some brands can be smokier or spicier than other brands. As with anything, it’s important to find a sausage that suits your tastes and fits your budget.
Mascarpone is a soft cream cheese, set with acid, from the Lombardy region of Italy. It’s made by adding acid to double cream, causing the cream to coagulate. It’s cooked gently, and then the whey is drained, leaving behind the soft and creamy mascarpone.
Whey: The liquid left behind after curdling milk and straining it.
It differs from cream cheese in that cream cheese uses whole milk whereas mascarpone uses double cream. Cream cheese has a fat content of 3-40 per cent. Mascarpone has a much higher fat content ranging from 60 to 70 per cent, so use it sparingly. Similarly, its name is widely believed to have derived from a word in the local Lombardy region for ricotta. Ricotta, however, is made from whey, not cream.
The Sauce for Chorizo and Red Pepper Pasta Bake
The sauce for this recipe is a simple tomato sauce, thinned down with a little stock and seasoned with oregano. The use of the classical mirepoix adds a sweetness to the sauce, while the celery adds a depth of flavour that will be unmissable.
Mirepoix – A classical mix of vegetables used as a base for most soups and sauces in classical cookery. It typically consists of onions, carrots, and celery. Some recipes call for leeks, some for herbs but it all depends on the needs of the recipe.
Chorizo and Red Pepper Pasta Bake
- 40 ml Olive Oil
- 1 Large White Onion Diced
- 1 Small Carrot Diced
- 2 Celery Sticks Diced
- 3 Cloves of Garlic Crushed
- 1 Tsp Oregano
- 2 Tbsp Tomato Puree
- 2 Tins of Chopped Tomato
- 400 ml Vegetable Stock
- 240 g Chorizo Diced
- 2 Red Peppers Diced
- 2 Tbsp Mascarpone
- 300 g Penne Pasta
- 100 g Mozzarella Shredded
- Salt / Pepper to taste.
- Pre-heat the oven to 190oc / gas mark 5.
- Heat a medium-sized pan on medium heat and add half of the olive oil.
- Gently cook the onions, carrots, and celery with a pinch of salt until soft and translucent, add the garlic and cook for another minute.
- Stir in the oregano, and tomato puree, followed by the chopped tomatoes, and stock.
- Leave the sauce to simmer for 15-20 minutes until the vegetables are soft and the sauce has thickened a little.
- While the sauce is cooking, heat a clean pan over medium heat and add the remaining oil.
- Gently fry the chorizo for 2-3 minutes until it begins to colour, then add the red peppers. Cook until the red peppers have begun to soften.
- Add the blended sauce to the peppers and chorizo and bring to a gentle simmer. Then stir in the mascarpone, and penne pasta.
- Stir to combine everything, then empty the pan into a large casserole dish. Cover with foil, then bake in the centre of the oven for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, remove the foil. And top with shredded mozzarella until it’s well covered. Return to the oven for another 15 minutes until the cheese is golden and bubbling.