Penne al Forno con Melanzane

This is one of those recipes that was kind of a trial run, but we still ate tons of it – I guess you would say it was a very successful trial run. I quite fancy just noting down what I did, and what I’d do next time, while it’s still fairly fresh in my mind.

I made this because we’d been out for Miss K’s birthday to a nice local pub in Glasgow, the 78 (@the78glasgow). The only trouble was that they had run out of the aubergine bake on the menu – having spent a long time deliberating over what to have, this was a serious blow. So, I had something else, but planned on making my own aubergine bake for Sunday dinner. Now, aubergines are tricky blighters. The first decision I had to make was this: to salt or not to salt? I read a lot of different opinions; well, two opinions, since it’s an either-or kind of decision, but expressed by lots of different people. What swung me to salting them was that I read it would help them keep their shape, which I liked the idea of. However, next time I probably wouldn’t salt them, and would gently fry or grill them before layering them up and baking. I say this because the aubergine layers were definitely a little dry and spongy in the finished result, and I had to bake the whole ish for about 45 minutes to achieve this texture. I didn’t *mind* the texture of them – it was good to be able to taste the aubergine rather than having overcooked and slightly slimy layers in the bake, but I’d have preferred a happy medium.

The 45 minute baking time – at gas mark 6 – also meant that the pasta was overdone and falling apart by the time I served it. It wasn’t horrible, but it did lend a wateriness to the meal that it could have done without. This is also due to the fact that there wasn’t *quite* enough sauce to go round all the pasta and I had to eke it out by adding a mix of water and tomato puree. The final thing I wasn’t happy with was my layering method – I went for pasta, cheese, aubergine; pasta, cheese, aubergine, ohdearIshouldhavedonethisdifferently, more cheese, breadcrumbs, parmesan. So a few things to improve on. All in all, though, a good dinner and one that we ate twice as much as we should have of – in fact, I probably ate three times as much as I should have. I suppose that’s really the final thing I’d do differently; I’d serve with a side of some kind, a salad or a vegetable, to avoid eating so much pasta. Now that I’m done listing everything that was wrong with it let me share with you the recipe that I’ll follow *next* time…

Ingredients (serves four)

  • one small onion
  • one large clove of garlic
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • two tins of chopped tomatoes (450g tins)
  • 3 tsp honey
  • salt and pepper
  • six stems worth of fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped (don’t bother taking them off the stem, bung it all in)
  • 300g penne
  • 200g cheddar or preferred cheese. Maybe I’ll try mozzarella next time, thinly sliced
  • one slice of wholegrain bread, turned into breadcrumbs
  • 50g parmesan or other hard cheese (enough to cover the top of the dish)


  • Finely chop the onion and garlic, add the oregano and sautee in a little oil until the onion is transparent.
  • Add the tinned tomatoes and honey, then season with salt and pepper.
  • Let this simmer just below a boil, to thicken. Stir frequently to avoid sticking.
  • Slice the aubergine to about a 1/8 inch thickness. Heat a frying pan and spray with oil, then fry the aubergine slices until they take on some colour and are soft and pliable, which won’t take long. Alternatively grill the slices to the same degree. Set aside.
  • Grate the cheddar (or slice the mozzarella) into a bowl.
  • Put the penne on to cook, but make sure to give it a few minutes less than the pack instructions say. This will stop the pasta from over-cooking in the oven.
  • When the pasta is cooked, drain it and add to the tomato sauce, along with the fresh basil. Stir through and season if required. Add tomato puree if the sauce is too thin, or wait a few minutes more until it thickens before adding the penne.
  • Layer the ingredients into a baking dish as follows – pasta, aubergine, cheese; pasta, aubergine, cheese; breadcrumbs, parmesan.
  • Bake at gas mark 5 for twenty minutes, or until top is golden brown and crisp.
  • Serve with whatever you fancy – salad, some veg, a bit of garlic bread, more pasta…

I am looking forward to making this again and getting it spot on – it was good enough the first time for me to want to have another pass at it. It also plated up beautifully, as the sauce had reduced enough so that it didn’t slide all over the plate, which my pasta bakes so often do. Don’t be concerned about leaving some of the sauce out, if you think there’s too much. That is my patronising phrase for the day.



About Rock Salt

Seasoning while rocking out since 1983. View all posts by Rock Salt

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