… sometimes when The Viking and I have had a tough day and the last thing we want to do is go home and cook we treat ourselves to a giant bowl of pasta at the Pollo Bar in London’s Soho. It’s quite a vintage establishment that, like the little house in the Pixar film Up, has watched its neighbours come and go as each trendy eating disorder has paved way for a new food place. I’m surprised it’s survived to be honest. The rent must be astronomic and people don’t really care about it but it’s always full, whenever I walk past there are always people in there and I think because it continues to serve basic good food, nothing fancy, just very large bowls of pasta and oven-fired pizza it has managed to survive. It’s cheap, so if you’re a student or a tourist on a budget you know it’s a safe bet. I wouldn’t say the food is excellent but if you stick to the classics from its extensive menu then you really can’t go wrong. Expect little and come away pleasantly surprised as my grandma Sylvia used to say. It’s a treat because we don’t eat a huge amount of pasta which is why pasta dishes are always on my comfort food list… which makes it special and I think if you can make even the most basic food feel special then you’re winning every day!
courgette and aubergine chilli pasta bake
The secret to the success of this pasta bake sauce is the addition of 4 cheeses… yes, that’s right, 4 cheeses. It may seem slightly excessive but quite frankly i’ve used more without blinking and I don’t care. This is a pasta bake after-all so you may as well go for it. I think of this as a cross between a classic Spag Bol and a Mac-n-Cheese. Comfort in a pot. I’m using those fabulous giant pasta shells, Conchiglioni Rigati because I love the fact that each one holds a gluttonous mouthful of cheesy sauce. Each one like a mini Cornish pasty filled with love. I’ve included aubergine and courgette because they are both vegetables that I love but underuse and I think they impart such a classic Italian taste, plus I’ve added the chilli flakes for some much needed heat. It’s a great, one-pot meal that will last the two of us for two dinners and a lunch. It’s divine served cold too, which is always a bonus!
- olive oil and butter
- 1 medium onion – peeled and chopped
- 1 medium courgette – diced
- 1 medium aubergine – diced
- 2 cloves garlic – minced
- 2 teaspoons chilli flakes
- fresh herbs – I used rosemary, thyme and a teaspoon of dried oregano
- 400g vegetarian mince – I have used Quorn
- 1 400ml jar passata or your favourite tomato sauce for pasta – try my homemade sauce recipe
- 200ml veggie stock (half re-fil the jar)
- 1 glass red wine
- 250g large giant shell pasta (or any pasta of your choice)
- 75g strong cheddar – grated
- 75g gouda – grated
- two large balls of mozzarella
- 150g parmesan – grated
warm up your pan, add a generous amount of butter and olive oil and once the butter has melted, add the onions, stir and let them shimmy in the pan for a while, as they begin to soften add the courgette, aubergine and garlic, stir well and saute gently for 5 mins, then add the herbs and let the whole thing saute gently again for a further 10 minutes.
once the veg are beginning to turn golden add the vegetarian mince, stir well and let it all sizzle together for at least another 5-8 mins or until the veg are beginning to colour and the mince is soft
add the wine, tomato sauce and liquid and stir well… turn the heat down to the very lowest and let it gently plop away for at least an hour, the longer you leave it the better
meanwhile cook the pasta in boiling water until just al dente, drain and set aside
pre-heat the oven to 160C
after at least an hour, stir all the cheddar and gouda, half the parmesan and one of the mozzarella balls into the sauce until stringy and melted, then add the pasta and stir together ensuring all the pasta holes are filled, then top with the last mozzarella ball torn into bits on top and a sprinkling of parmesan. Place the lid on top and pop it into the oven for 20 mins with the lid on and 10 mins with the lid off
eat and of course, enjoy!