I’ve been cooking this dish in my family since I was a little girl but perfecting it as I grew older and found it served as a great date dish. A good pasta al forno should be messy and have pasta pieces sticking up here and there because then they will crisp up and go all croccante in between the topping of oozing mozzarella.
Chop 1 very large eggplant into even cubes, coat completely with olive oil in a pan and fry on a high heat. When they are almost cooked, add 200g of pancetta cubed and continue frying until all is crispy and golden. Dice a red onion and add the pan, cooking until soft and adding 2 cloves of finely chopped garlic in the last 2 minutes. Add 1 litre of tomato passata or tinned chopped tomatoes, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste and a splash of red wine. Leave on a low heat to thicken and reduce. Meanwhile put about 400g of penne pasta on to boil in a pot of salted water. When the pasta is cooked, drain and mix through the eggplant and pancetta sauce. In oven-proof dish layer the pasta out, top with torn mozzarella and add another layer of both on top. Place in a 180degree oven and for 20 minutes or until the cheese has melted and crisped up on top.
Serve with fresh torn basil and grated Parmesan if you like things super cheesy.