Most of us don’t much like to use the oven in the dog days of summer, but you might want to make an exception for bucatini alla pizzaiola, a delicious baked pasta dish that sings all the favorite flavor notes of southern Italy. It’s styled alla pizzaiola, literally “pizza style”, for its oregano-scented marinara sauce, the original topping for a Neapolitan pizza before pizza alla Margherita dethroned it as the Ur-Neapolitan pizza. Bits of mozzarella add to the pizza theme. All sorts of dishes can be made alla pizzaiola, including the eponymous Neapolitan meat dish you may have seen featured here on Memorie di Angelina.
- 500g (1 lb) bucatini
- 750ml (3 cups) of marinara sauce, preferably made with fresh tomatoes
- A pinch of oregano
- A few fresh basil leaves
- 200g (7 oz) mozzarella, cut into cubes
- Grated parmesan cheese, q.b.
For the topping:
- 2-3 fresh ripe tomatoes, sliced
- Olive oil
Make the marinara sauce following the recipe found in our post on Tomato Sauce 101, adding a few fresh basil leaves at the end. Leave the sauce quite loose.
When the sauce is almost done, cook the bucatini in well salted water for no more than 3 minutes, just so they are pliable. (They will still be quite raw on the inside but no worries, they will cook further in the oven.) Drain and mix the pasta with about half the sauce and some grated cheese in a large bowl.
Spread a ladleful of the remaining sauce at the bottom of a baking dish, add some of the dressed bucatini. Sprinkle over half the mozzarella and a pinch of oregano. Repeat with more pasta, mozzarella, sauce and oregano, then just pasta.
Top the final layer of pasta with slices of fresh tomato, the oregano and a pinch of salt, sprinkled with breadcrumbs and drizzle everything with olive oil.
Bake in a hot (200C/400F) oven for about 20-30 minutes, or until browned on top. If you like a crusty top, you can let it run under the broiler for a minute or two at the end. Let the dish rest for at least another 20 minutes before serving. It is also very nice served at room temperature.
Some recipes for bucatini alla pizzaiola you’ll find call for olives and/or capers in the sauce, which sounds like a nice option to me. For a more substantial dish that could serve as a one-course meal, another common variation adds canned tuna to the mix.
Of course, if you use fresh, ripe summer tomatoes from your garden or farmers market for making your tomato sauce, you’ll experience this dish at its best. But if tomatoes are out of season or you just don’t have access to good fresh tomatoes, you can still make the sauce for this dish with good-quality canned tomatoes or passata di pomodoro. It’ll still be delicious. And the amount of tomato sauce is quite variable, depending on how ‘red’ you like your pasta. I’ve seen recipes calling for much less or much more sauce than indicated here—let your own tastes and instincts be your guide.
And you need not stick to bucatini if you can’t find them (they’re often marketed as perciatelli, their Neapolitan name) or you simply prefer another pasta. Spaghetti go particularly well, but you can also opt for a short pasta like penne. I’ve even seen recipes for orecchiette. (The dish is a favorite in Puglia, even if the ingredients say “Campania” to me.)
Bucatini alla pizzaiola comes in a non-baked version: just make your sauce with a good pinch of oregano (plus olives and capers, if you’re in the mood), and dress you pasta as you would any other; you can add cubed mozzarella as you mix if you like.