This Apulian Mozzarella Pasta Bake should be on your radar if you love mozzarella.
Here’s what to expect: It’s crispy on top, cheesy and stringy in the middle. When you taste it, you’ll appreciate the sweetness of the tomato sauce, the saltiness of the mortadella, and the rich milk taste of the mozzarella. To cut through all of that there will be little bites of tomatoes with their fresh goodness.
Why are we calling this Apulian Pasta?
Because it’s an Apulian recipe popular among the locals who love making this rich dish for Sundays and special occasions. It’s their version of a baked pasta.
Moreover, Puglia is known for the sprinkling of breadcrumbs on top of everything, especially pasta.
If you too like the crispiness that breadcrumbs add to a dish, here are more recipes featuring them:
- Orecchiette pasta with turnip tops (here)
- Italian Potato Gratin
- Baked Fish from Puglia
- Courgettes Casserole (here)
Apulian Food Traditions around Baked Pasta
Did you know that pasta bake is the number one recipe cooked in Puglia on a Sunday?
This was especially so in the past, when pasta bakes were prepared in terracotta dishes and baked in public wood ovens.
Both the terracotta dish and the wood oven contributed to giving the pasta dishes a tastier flavour, and surely one that felt authentic and special.
If you are wondering why that’s so, let me tell you.
Terracotta, like clay pots, are said to make cooking extra delicious because they retain most of the nutrients, as well as the colour and flavour of all the ingredients.
It seems that nowadays, more and more of us are appreciating this, and going back to using them in our modern kitchens.
If you want to give terracotta cookware a try, here are more benefits they provide:
- manage heat well and cooks food slowly, which has become a trend lately
- balance PH level
- healthy for the heart
- environmentally friendly
- good value for your money
Ziti are a long and tick type of pasta with a hole in the centre, similar to thin cylinders. They originate from the region of Campania, and have a similar length to spaghetti with a diameter of about 8.5 mm.
These can be enjoyed long, and they are especially delicious with meat and other rich sauces like carbonara.
However, the tradition sees them mostly used after being broken into four parts. There’s in fact a story that says that in Naples, on quiet Sunday mornings, you could hear the women breaking their ziti to make pasta bakes.
Nowadays, we don’t need to break them as we can use the shorter format, called ziti tagliati. The latter means cut ziti.
Ziti in Italian
Ziti in Italian remains as is because that’s the Italian name, and to be more specific it’s actually the local dialect name.
In the South, ziti means engaged, referring to a young couple about to get married.
Apparently, this pasta shape was called this way because it was used to make baked pasta for engagement and wedding lunches.
Following this tradition, Italians now use ziti tagliati to make many baked pasta recipes, including timballo and pasticci.
Baked ziti all over the world
Baking pasta dishes with this shape has spread beyond Italy, hence this way of calling them.
The most common recipes include ground beef or sausage, ricotta and other cheeses, as well as tomato sauce.
You can also use your favourite meat ragu to coat them, throw them into a dish with the addition of cheese and besciamella and turn your lasagna into baked ziti.
But that’s not what we are making today.
Baked Mozzarella Pasta
Today, we are using this loved tiny cylinder to make a delicious mozzarella pasta, that also includes these key ingredients:
- Eggs, both hard boiled and beaten
- A richer tomato sauce than our usual one, homemade
- Fresh tomatoes
- A high quality Italian extra virgin olive oil like Belmorso EVOO
You can see from the ingredients above that this might not be as rich as a meat sauce or ragu, but it’s still on the rich side.
For those of you who want to make it lighter, or vegetarian, feel free to skip the mortadella. You could replace the latter with a paprika marinated tofu if you want.
Fresh Mozzarella vs Regular
Italians love their mozzarella, so much that it’s the number 1 eaten cheese followed by parmesan.
The beauty of mozzarella is that it comes in so many varieties that you always have the right option for your recipe.
The three varieties you are likely to have encountered and used before, or at least eaten in a restaurant are these:
- fresh mozzarella in water
- the trendy burrata
- mozzarella cheese in a block
Italians don’t usually cook with the fresh mozzarella, that is the one which comes in water. This is because the latter risks making your dishes more watery. This can be a problem, particularly when baking.
We also prefer using burrata for salads because it’s so rich and indulgent. Of course, you can also place it on top of your pasta, if that’s something you like. And you can also cook with it, replacing your cream cheese.
Mozzarella cheese is what Italians like to put on their pizza or use for many bakes, including pasta but also chicken, meat and vegetable bakes. This is a dried version of the fresh mozzarella that’s similar to a regular stringy cheese that can also melt.
If you are wondering which type of mozzarella do professional pizza makers use, that’s called fior di latte. It’s similar to fresh mozzarella but is made with fresh cow’s milk rather than Buffalo milk.
In today’s recipe, we are using the harder mozzarella cheese type.
Easy Tomato and Mozzarella Pasta Bake
It’s time to make this recipe. Don’t be intimidated by the many steps, as they are very simple.
In terms of time, a big chunk of your time will be taken for preparing the tomato sauce, but see it as a time investment.
This recipe will leave you with a small container of extra tomato sauce that you can use for other recipes. If you prefer, you can also double or triple the tomato sauce ingredients and make more to freeze.
Follow along on your screen, or feel free to print out the recipe card.
Apulian Mozzarella Pasta Bake
- 1 large pot
- 2 small pots
- 1 dish
- 1 medium bowl
- 1 smaller bowl
- 1 chopping board
- 1 chopping knife
Ingredients for Tomato Sauce
- 750 ml tomato passata
- 1/2 medium yellow onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 6 leaves fresh basil
- salt and pepper
- Belmorso Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Ingredients for Mozzarella Pasta Bake
- 500 gr Ziti Tagliati or short ziti pasta
- 250 gr mozzarella cheese not fresh mozzarella in water
- 200 gr mortadella preferably a large block for dicing
- 3 medium tomatoes
- 60 gr parmesan cheese
- 3 medium eggs
- Peel the garlic, rinse it and leave it whole.
- Peel, wash and chop the onion.
- Add both to a small pot, and drizzle with Belmorso EVOO.
- Leave them to sauté for a few minutes, and then pour the passata. Add the basil, season with salt and pepper and drizzle some more EVOO. Let the sauce cook covered and over low heat for around 35 to 40 minutes.
- In the meantime, you can rinse and boil your two eggs. You'll need the third one for later, so don't boil that too.
- Cut both the mozzarella and mortadella into cubes. Set some cut mozzarella aside, and add the rest with the mortadella in a bowl.
- Dice your tomatoes, and add to the bowl.
- Boil the water for your pasta in a large pot with plenty of salt.
- Once your egg has boiled, let it cool and then chop it into the bowl with the rest of the cut ingredients.
- Add the pasta to cook.
- Drain the pasta and transfer it back to the same pot. Set aside some pasta water.
- Add some of the onion and tomato sauce you made to your drained pasta, just enough to coat it, about less than half. Feel free to add some pasta water, if needed.
- Add the chopped ingredients to the pasta, and mix.
- Beat your third egg with a fork, and add that too.
- Add the grated parmesan in.
- Mix well and transfer the pasta to two baking dishes, previously oiled.
- Top with a generous sprinkle of breadcrumbs, and scatter the mozzarella cubes you set aside.
- Bake in a pre-heated oven for 40 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius.
- Take out, serve and enjoy.
Can you cook mozzarella cheese? and answering other questions
Can you cook mozzarella cheese?
Does mozzarella melt in the oven?
Do Italians put mozzarella in pasta?
Do you drain the liquid from mozzarella?
Can mozzarella be heated?
Is mozzarella pasta bake healthy?
Can you use normal pasta sauce for baking?
Is ziti and penne the same?
What kind of pasta is ziti?
What pasta is closest to ziti?
Can you use rigatoni instead of ziti?