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Recipe  •  15 December 2022

 

Baked orzo with mozzarella and oregano

A luxurious take on the pasta bake.

Even the most standard of pasta bakes will always hold a place in my heart, for they comfort me and remind me of my father’s cooking. This is no sentimental journey, though, it’s a proud, sophisticated and rather luxurious take on the bake. People can get a bit sniffy about the firm, low-moisture mozzarella sold in blocks. If eaten by itself it’s a very different beast to the buffalo, but it works brilliantly for grating or finely dicing in a dish or bake like this.

Serves 4

  • 100ml olive oil
  • 1 large aubergine, cut into 2cm dice (300g)
  • 4 medium carrots, cut into 1.5cm dice (300g)
  • 4 celery stalks, cut into 1.5cm dice (200g)
  • 1 large onion, finely diced (170g)
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 250g orzo pasta, rinsed
  • 1 tsp tomato purée
  • 380ml vegetable stock
  • 3 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped, or 1½ tbsp thyme leaves
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 120g hard mozzarella, cut into 1cm dice
  • 40g Parmesan, grated
  • 3 medium tomatoes, cut into 1cm thick slices (400g)
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • salt and black pepper

Method

Preheat oven to 200ºC/180ºC Fan/Gas Mark 6.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and add the aubergine. Cook for 8 minutes on a medium–high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon to kitchen paper and set aside. Add the carrot and celery to the pan and fry for 8 minutes. Transfer to kitchen paper. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the orzo and tomato purée and cook for a further 2 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the stock, fresh oregano or thyme and lemon zest. Add the cooked vegetables, mozzarella, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon of salt and ½ a teaspoon of pepper. Mix well and transfer to an ovenproof dish, 21 x 27cm. Arrange the tomatoes on top and sprinkle with the dried oregano, along with a ¼ teaspoon of salt and a grind of black pepper.

Bake in the oven for 40 minutes, or until all the liquid has been absorbed and the pasta is cooked through. Remove, leave to settle for 5 minutes and serve.

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