Zia Melina is a fantastic cook. I enjoyed our invitations for Sunday lunch during my holidays in Vietri di Potenza. Married to Zio Antonio, she was mum to four children, yet looked every bit the movie star. With piercing blue eyes and clear, pale skin she reminded me of Cleopatra.
But the similarity stopped there. She is a beautifully modest and humbly demure. Whatsmore, she cooks purely with love. Her table is also bountiful, no matter how many mouths there are to feed, she effortlessly turns a basic pasta into a special meal. I primi piatti of pasta were her speciality and this recipe is one I remember her for. Make this dish if you are having to feed many, yet want to create a dramatic entrance.
1 bag of conchiglioni rigati pasta or 455g (1lb) of any pasta * 3 tbsp olive oil * I large onion, finely chopped * I stick celery, finely chopped * 1 clove garlic, chopped * a handful of basil leaves, hand ripped * 510g (1lb 2oz) beef mince * ½tsp mixed herbs * ½tsp basil herb * 395g (14oz) can chopped tomatoes * 395g (14oz) passata * 1 chicken stock cube * 1 large mozzarella ball, sliced * 115g (4oz) grated cheddar cheese * salt & freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil on a gentle heat in a deep frying pan. Add the onions, celery, garlic and half the basil leaves in the pan and cook until softened. Increase the heat add the minced beef and dried herbs, stirring constantly until cooked. Add the chopped tomatoes and fry off for about 2 minutes then add the passata. Crumble up the stock cube into the passata container and add in a small amount of hot water, enough to dissolve it and swill round the container. Add salt & pepper, partially cover and simmer on a low heat for 30 minutes. Keep checking and adding some water as required to make a thick sauce.
Heat up the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas 5. Boil the conchiglioni pasta for 10-12 minutes until ‘al dente’. Add the pasta to the sauce and stir well. Transfer to an ovenproof dish and lay on the mozzarella and rest of the fresh basil. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top. Bake in the middle of the oven, uncovered, for 10-15 minutes until golden brown.
I have collated all my favourite recipes into one book FOOD FOR ALL OCCASIONS.
This recipe comes from the section THE ITALIAN JOB, a selection of authentic Italian recipes.