Pasta bakes must be one of the ultimate comfort foods. I don’t make them too often because they tend to be a bit sinful – loaded with cheese and carbs – however, at least this dish is also packed with veggies and garlic, so the cheese doesn’t count, right? This courgette, mozzarella and pancetta pasta bake is very simple to make – you can get on with most of your preparation while the courgettes are cooking. It can be made in advance ready to just pop in the oven for 20 minutes when you need it.
For a vegetarian option, just leave out the pancetta (although as I’m not a vegetarian, I find it very difficult to omit any option involving bacon!)
Courgette, mozzarella and pancetta pasta bake
This recipe is adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Hugh’s Three Good Things… on a plate, which has some really nice no-fuss ideas for simple dishes based around a few key ingredients.
Your first job is to slice the courgettes, either with a knife or a mandoline slicer. A knife will do the job, but this is one of those times when I’m really glad of a mandoline. It will speed through several courgettes in no time at all – but do watch your fingers!
Now gently fry the sliced courgettes in for up to 30 minutes, stirring frequently, until they are softened. After about half an hour they will have cooked down nicely into a meltingly soft, almost mushy texture.
While the courgettes are cooking, remember to keep stirring them while you prepare the other ingredients. Now is the time to chop the garlic, tear the mozzarella, grate your Parmesan, fry your pancetta (if using), and cook your pasta.
Once the courgettes are nearly ready, add the garlic to soften for a minute or two, and then mix in the fried pancetta.
Next stir in your cooked pasta, torn mozzarella and double cream into the courgette, garlic and pancetta mixture. Transfer the mixture to a greased oven dish and sprinkle with grated Parmesan. It is now ready to bake in the oven, or pause at this stage to cook it later.
When you’re ready, pop your pasta bake in the oven until it’s gorgeously golden brown on top. This will take about 20 minutes if you’re baking it straight away. If it’s been prepared in advance and just come out of the fridge, add another 5-10 minutes.
- Prep Time: 40m
- Cook Time: 20m
- Total Time: 1h
- a knob of butter
- 3 courgettes (about 500g/1lb)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 fat cloves of garlic
- 100 grams pancetta or bacon lardons (4 oz)
- 250 grams mozzarella (or 2 balls/8 oz)
- 2 tablespoons double cream
- 1 handful of Parmesan or other hard cheese
- 250 grams pasta, e.g. macaroni/rigatoni/penne
- salt and pepper
- Cut the courgettes into 3mm (1/8 inch) slices.
- Heat the olive oil in a large, non-stick frying pan. Fry the courgettes over a medium heat until sizzling. Then turn the heat down low and cook gently for up to 30 minutes, until the courgettes are meltingly soft and starting to break down. While the courgettes are cooking, prepare the other ingredients.
- Once the courgettes are sizzling, add a pinch of salt and turn the heat down to low. Cook the courgettes for about 30 minutes, stirring them often until they are meltingly soft and a bit mushy. You can prepare the other ingredients in between stirring.
- Grease a 1.5 litre oven dish with a little butter.
- Preheat the oven to 190°C (fan 170°C/375°F/Gas 5).
- Fry the pancetta or lardons over a medium heat for 5-10 minutes until they are golden and crispy. Drain on kitchen paper and reserve.
- Finely chop the garlic, grate the Parmesan, and tear the mozzarella into pieces.
- Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pasta for 1-2 minutes less than the cooking instructions, so it remains slightly underdone. Drain well.
- When the courgettes are nearly ready, add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Stir in the pancetta.
- Then mix the pasta into the courgette mixture. Add the mozzarella and cream, season with salt and pepper mix everything together.
- Put the pasta mixture into the greased oven dish and sprinkle over the Parmesan.
- Bake for about 20 minutes until the pasta bake is a lovely golden brown.