Friday, September 28, 2012

Baked Orecchiette Pugliese

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This is truly THE BEST baked pasta dish on the planet and it is authentic, a pure Italian dish, ancient recipe from Puglia. There are so many created baked pasta dishes but few are really what I would call Italian. This is one of the few and it is fabulous particularly if you are lucky enough to use fresh Perini or San Marzano plum tomatoes from your garden or, from Puglia and buffalo mozzarella. 
The only way to make this is by using the real ingredients and that means, real Parmigiano Reggiano or Padano and not aged over 18 months. If the cheese is older than 24 months, it will be override the delicate flavors of the tomatoes and mozzarella.

This can be made ahead by putting it together and refrigerating. This dish is great as leftovers and eaten cold too but it truly is a one course meal when hot just add a salad and a great red wine. Buon appetito!

Preheat oven 400F
Put water on to boil and salt it well
Sea salt, fresh ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil
1 white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic finely sliced
1 or 2 dried red chilies, crumbled
3 ½ lb ripe tomatoes or 3 14oz cans Perini or San Marzano peeled tomatoes
large handful of fresh basil leaves
1 tbl red wine vinegar (or less, depends on the tomatoes)
14oz dried orecchiette (see photos)
big handfuls of freshly grated Parmigiano
3 (5oz) balls of mozzarella di buffala (buffalo mozzarella or fresh-made soft mozzarella, the balls stored in water) This type of mozzarella, which is the only type that can be called mozzarella otherwise it has to be labeled "fior di latte," gives the dish a creamy and delicate flavor. Do not use Precious Mozzarella – this is not the real thing and makes a rubbery disgusting dish. Mozzarella is a low fat cheese by nature so looking for a part skim or all skim milk cheese is like an oxymoron in my book.

Heat a couple of lugs or two spoons of olive oil. Add onion, garlic and chili and slowly fry for about 10 minutes on med to low heat until softened but without any color.
If using fresh tomatoes, remove the core with the tip of a small knife, plunge them into the boiling water for about 40 seconds until the skin starts to come away, then remove with slotted spoon and remove the pan from the heat.
Put tomatoes in a bowl and run cold water over them. Slide the skins off, squeeze out the seeds, and roughly chop.
Add the fresh or canned tomatoes to the onion and garlic and a small glass of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for around 20 minutes. Put them through a food processor or blender to make a loose sauce (or hand blender). Tear the basil leaves into the sauce and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and a tiny swig of red wine vinegar.
When the sauce tastes perfect, bring the water back to the boil. Add the orecchiette to the water and cook to very al dente, even under done since this pasta will cook again in the oven.
Drain and toss with half of the tomato sauce and a handful of Parmigiano Padano or Reggiano. Rub baking pan with a little olive oil. Layer a little pasta in the pan followed by tomato sauce, a handful of grated Parmigiano and 1 sliced up mozzarella ball. Then, repeat these layers until all ingredients have been used. end with a layer of mozzarella on top. If you need more, use it.
Bake for 15 minutes or until golden crisp and bubbling.

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