Oh hey friends and welcome to the BEST RECIPE I’VE EVER SHARED! I really mean it, it’s delicious. You absolutely want to bookmark this one and make it every day for the rest of your life. Like me.
But before we get to it, there are a few things I want to talk about:
I’m not vegan.
Lots of people assume I am, and I understand why. Broccoli is my favourite food (no really, it is – roasted tenderstem with olive oil and salt = heaven on earth) and I cook and eat a LOT of plant based meals. However, while I don’t eat a huge amount of meat or animal products, I do eat some, and that means some of the recipes on my blog will feature these ingredients.
I hope that’s cool.
I welcome plant lovers to my blog. (And meat lovers. And carb lovers. All food lovers really).
No, I’m not vegan. BUT that does not mean I don’t cater to vegans. I welcome anyone and everyone to this blog and I aim to make as many of my meals as accessible as possible. So yes, this recipe features chicken and cheese, but it doesn’t have to. It would be just as delicious with some extra veggies or tofu and a crust made with breadcrumbs and nutritional yeast. Or vegan cheese! Or no topping at all – grilled aubergines are enough my friends. Play around with it and make it a meal that works for you.
Happiness and healthiness, that’s what I’m going for.
Credit where credit is due
Okay, so I can’t go any further without giving my boyfriend his full and well-deserved credit for this recipe. He’s kind of unlucky in that respect – I have a tendency to steal all his delicious ideas because it just so happens I have a food blog and he doesn’t. Ha!
Rest assured I gave him two huge portions of the stuff as a thank you. So I think we’re good.
I also want to credit Lindsay at Pinch of Yum for the inspo behind the red pepper sauce. Sheer genius, really. You can find her recipe here.
Burnt pasta. Let’s talk about THAT! You know when you make a pasta bake and you cover it in thick creamy sauce and then top it with breadcrumbs and cheese and you put it in the oven and the bits at the side get a little bit burnt and crispy and a LOT delicious. Yep. That happens here too.
Aubergine. I opted to griddle fry the aubergine slices in batches as I don’t have enough space in my oven for multiple roasting trays, but you can roast them if you prefer. Just lay them flat on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and a little salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes or so, flipping them over once during cooking time. Alternatively, pan fry the aubergine in chunks and stir it into the sauce.
The basic premise is that aubergine has to feature because it tastes so darn good. How it features however is totally up to you.
To all my vegan friends. You’re likely to be more creative than me with this dish, but to make this vegan I would recommend replacing the chicken with some roasted cauliflower (because who doesn’t love roasted cauliflower) and finding a good vegan mozzarella to sprinkle on top. There are loads out there now. Some people are even making their own, which is crazy! Minimalist Baker is my favourite.
Oh and the pasta. I went for organic spelt curly wurlys (don’t worry, that’s a chef’s term) but you could use whatever you like. Stick to the classics and go for some penne, or rock the boat a little and choose chickpea and red lentil fusilli! Why not?
I think that’s it.
I mean it’s not, I could talk about this hearty, crunchy, cheesy, creamy, peppery, crispy, garlicky, golden-topped pasta bake forever, but let’s face it. You’re here for the recipe. Not me.
To the recipe!
For the red pepper sauce
- 200g roasted red peppers (should be the net weight of 1 jar)
- 150g tomato pasta sauce or passata
- 50g cashews
- 200ml water
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Salt and pepper
For the pasta bake
- 200g pasta
- 2 aubergines, sliced into rounds
- 2 chicken breasts
- 1 tsp mixed herbs
- Salt and pepper
- Olive oil
For the cheesy crust
- 150g grated mozzarella
- 20g grated parmesan
- 50g breadcrumbs
Note: You need a large saucepan for this as everything is going to be added at the end. If you don’t have one big enough, simply mix all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl instead.
- Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°c fan). Rub the chicken breasts with a little olive oil, the mixed herbs, and some salt and pepper and place on a lightly oiled baking tray. (Alternatively you can wrap in parchment paper or tin foil to create a parcel). Cook in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through. Once the chicken breasts have cooled, grab two forks and pull the meat apart into smaller pieces, ready to stir into the pasta bake.
- While the chicken is cooking, prep the other ingredients. To cook the aubergine, heat a griddle pan on a high heat and brush a little olive oil onto either side of the aubergine slices. Griddle the rounds until soft and charred in places and set aside.
- Next, cook the pasta in a large saucepan, as per the packet instructions. Once cooked, drain almost all the pasta water, leaving a tablespoon or two to help when it comes to mixing it all in. Stir in 1 tbsp olive oil to prevent the pasta from sticking.
- Finally, make the sauce. Chuck all the sauce ingredients into a blender or food processor and blitz until completely smooth.
- To assemble the pasta bake, pour ¾ of the red pepper sauce onto the pasta, add the pulled chicken and stir to combine. Pour into a large casserole dish and press down to allow space for the aubergine slices and cheesy topping.
- Place the aubergine rounds on top, one after the other until the pasta is completely covered. Continue to layer up the aubergine until evenly spaced.
- Mix together the cheese and breadcrumbs, adding a little black pepper if desired. Pour the remaining sauce on top of the aubergine and sprinkle with the cheesy topping.
- Place in the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling at the edges. If the top starts to burn, simply cover with some tin foil and continue cooking until done.
- Top with some fresh basil and dig in!