Since we’ve got all that time on our hands these days, dear friends, we might as well try out some of those wonderfully tasty slow cooking recipes in the oven – those really filling, mostly Mediterranean creations with oodles of melted cheese on top that we usually eat only at the restaurant because most of them take so long to get ready. We mustn’t forget, though, that most of the time is taken up by the actual baking process, and not all of these recipes take a lot of preparation time – some do, though, like stuffed peppers or moussaka…
So, I’ve put together here my favourite ‘al forno’ recipes for you; some take longer than others, some are quicker, some are very easy to do, and some are vegetarian, so I hope you’ll all find something here to try out yourself!
Stuffed peppers and tomatoes
4 tomatoes, 4 peppers, 1 onion, 4 potatoes, 250g mincemeat (optional), 250-300g rice (round grain), 50g breadcrumbs, 250g passata, olive oil, salt, pepper, sugar, parsley, mint
Allow me to start with some recipes from Greece, dear friends, which was my adopted home country for 20 years; it’s got one of the tastiest and most famous cuisines in the world, and I learned a lot about cooking there!
Stuffed peppers and tomatoes have become very trendy lately, though admittedly they involve quite a lot of work and also a bit of care: you’ve got to scoop out the tomatoes carefully in order not to get a hole into them. It’s fun, though, when you’ve got nothing else to do! You can do this as a vegetarian dish if you like, leaving out the mincemeat and adding more rice instead.
Cut the tops off the tomatoes and peppers and scoop out the tomatoes with a spoon (carefully!); put them all into a big baking tin and put salt and pepper on all of them and also a bit of sugar on the tomatoes.
Chop the onion and fry it with the mincemeat (optional) in oil; add the chopped flesh from the tomatoes, the passata, the rice and 100ml water. Season with salt, pepper, parsley and mint and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. (You may have to add some more water in the process.)
Fill the tomatoes and peppers with the mixture, put breadcrumbs on top and then the tops of the vegetables. Cut the potatoes into 4-8 pieces and add them to the tray in between the vegetables; preheat the oven to 180°C.
Add salt, pepper, passata, olive oil and water and bake in the oven for about 2 hours; you’ll have to keep an eye on it and add more water regularly (about every 20 minutes, towards the end more frequently). Make sure to take them out of the oven before the tops get burned!
(This photo is of my special Halloween stuffed peppers – you can really get creative with the peppers if you like, carving funny faces into them!)
2 big aubergines, 1 onion, 2 tomatoes, 250g mincemeat, 1 egg, 50g breadcrumbs, 250g grated cheese, 50g butter, 500ml milk, 250ml passata, 2-3tsp lemon juice, 2tbsp flour, salt, pepper, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, parsley, olive oil
Another Greek favourite are stuffed aubergines – literally one of the most delicious recipes in the whole world! Like stuffed peppers and tomatoes, it’s a bit difficult to do, but it most certainly is worth it…
Fry the whole aubergines in a pan with oil for 8-10 minutes, turning them around regularly. Let them cool down a bit, then cut off the end bit and cut them in half; carefully scoop them out with the help of a knife and a spoon – be sure not to hurt the outer part of the skin, which will be soft by now! Put the aubergine halves in a big baking tin.
Chop the onions and fry them in oil with the mincemeat, chop the aubergine flesh and the tomatoes and add them together with the passata, salt, pepper, cloves and allspice (those two indispensable ingredients of Greek cuisine!) and let simmer for 5 minutes. Then, add the parsley, the breadcrumbs and 50g cheese.
Heat up the butter in a pot, add the flour and then the milk while whisking, bring to boil and let simmer for 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg, lemon juice, the egg and 50g cheese and keep stirring; after about 5 more minutes, your bechamel sauce will be ready – you can also use a packet with ready bechamel sauce powder, of course, but it won’t be quite as tasty as a homemade one!
Fill the aubergines with the mincemeat mixture and pour the bechamel sauce on top, then add the rest of the cheese. Bake in the oven at 180°C for 40 minutes, and you’ll have one of the greatest Mediterranean meals you’ve ever tasted! By the way, in Greek they’re called ‘melitzanes papoutsakia’ (little aubergine shoes) because they look a bit like that…
3 aubergines, 4 courgettes, 4 potatoes, 2 onions, 2 tomatoes, 500g mincemeat, 3 eggs, 100g breadcrumbs, 50g butter, 250g grated cheese, 3-4tsp lemon juice, 1l milk, 500ml passata, 4tbsp flour, 100ml white wine, olive oil, salt, pepper, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, oregano, parsley, nutmeg
And here’s the most famous of all Greek oven baked dishes: moussaka. It takes even more preparation than the previous two recipes, but it’s easier to do; what you have to do is basically just a lot of vegetable slicing…
Slice the aubergines, the courgettes and the potatoes and fry them one by one in oil, then put them on 3 different plates with kitchen paper at the bottom so that it can soak up the surplus oil.
Chop the onions and fry them in oil with the mincemeat, meanwhile chop the tomatoes as well. Add them to the mincemeat together with the passata, cloves and allspice, salt, pepper, cinnamon, oregano and parsley and the wine and cook for 15-20 minutes. Then, add the breadcrumbs, 50g cheese and one egg and let simmer on a low flame while you do the bechamel sauce.
Heat up the butter in a pot, add the flour and then the milk while whisking, bring to the boil and simmer for 3 minutes. Then, add salt, pepper, nutmeg, lemon juice and 50g cheese and 2 eggs and let simmer on a low flame for 5-6 more minutes.
Oil a big baking tin and put the slices of potatoes, aubergines and courgettes on it in a nice array. Then, add the mincemeat and top with the bechamel sauce and the rest of the cheese. Bake in the oven at 180°C for 1 hour at least until the top looks a nice golden brown.
500g macaroni (bucatini), 500g mincemeat, 2 tomatoes, 1 onion, 3 eggs, 250g grated cheese, 1l milk, 50g butter, 500ml passata, 2-3tsp lemon juice, 2tbsp flour, olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley, cloves, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg
And here’s another Greek family favourite, which is much easier to do than the other three: a maraconi gratin similar to an Italian lasagne! First, cook the bucatini (the long variant of macaroni, with a hole in the middle) for 15 minutes; chop the onion and the tomatoes, fry the onion with the mincemeat, then add the tomato and the passata together with salt, pepper, parsley, cloves, allspice and cinnamon and simmer for 10 minutes.
In a pot, prepare your bechamel sauce: heat up the butter and add the flour and then the milk while whisking; bring to boil and simmer for 3 minutes, then add salt, pepper, nutmeg, lemon juice, 2 eggs and 50g cheese and keep simmering, stirring very regularly. Meanwhile, add the other egg and 50g cheese to the mincemeat and keep simmering for 5 more minutes.
Put the macaroni in a big round or square baking tin, add the mincemeat and top with the bechamel sauce and the rest of the cheese; bake in the oven at 180° for 40-50 minutes – ready!
Courgettes au gratin
1 kilo courgettes, 250g pasta or 4 big potatoes, 100g flour, 1 packet bechamel powder, 250g grated cheese, 50g breadcrumbs, butter, oil
The French also are very good at oven baked dishes – it’s no coincidence that the ‘English’ word for a casserole dish baked in the oven is ‘gratin’… And this one’s quite easy to do, and it’s vegetarian, too!
Slice the courgettes and turn the slices in flour on a plate, then fry them in oil with salt. Meanwhile, cook the pasta of your choice or the potatoes, whichever you prefer.
Now, in my previous recipes from Greece I’ve told you how to do a homemade bechamel sauce; since most French housewives prefer a ready mixture nowadays, though, you might do the same because it’s a lot easier. Just prepare the sauce according to the instructions on the packet!
Put half of the bechamel sauce in a big baking tin, then add the courgette slices and the pasta or the sliced potatoes and the breadcrumbs. Top with the other half of the bechamel sauce, the cheese and flakes of butter and bake in the oven at 220°C for 20 minutes. A tip: you can also do this with broccoli instead of courgettes!
1,5kg spinach, 4 eggs, 1 packet bechamel powder, 200g grated cheese, 50g butter, salt, pepper
Another famous French dish, also vegetarian and also easy to do: wash the spinach, tear it into pieces and cook it in salted water for 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the bechamel sauce according to the instructions on the packet. Beat the eggs in a bowl with a whisk.
Drain the spinach and mix it with the bechamel sauce, then add the eggs and half of the cheese and stir well. Put the mixture in a baking tin and top with the rest of the cheese and butter flakes. Bake in the oven at 220°C for 20 minutes, and you’ll have a wonderfully creamy and also very healthy vegetarian family dinner!
Lasagne al forno
6-8 sheets lasagne, 250g mincemeat, 500ml milk, 1 tomato, 250ml passata, 1 onion, 3 eggs, 300g grated cheese, 50g butter, 2-3tsp lemon juice, 2tbsp flour, olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley, cinnamon, nutmeg
The probably most famous ‘al forno‘ dish of them all comes – of course – from Italy: lasagne. Not only Garfield, but all the world loves it, and you can find it in US diners, British pubs and Australian kitchens. And it’s not difficult to do, either! And just in case you’re wondering: no, there’s absolutely no need to cook the lasagne sheets first…
Chop the onion and fry it in oil with the mincemeat; add the chopped tomato, the passata, salt, pepper, parsley and cinnamon and simmer for 10 minutes. Add some water if necessary.
Heat up the butter and add the flour and then the milk while whisking, bring to boil and simmer for 3 minutes; then add 2 eggs, salt, pepper, nutmeg, lemon juice and 50g cheese and simmer for 5-6 more minutes; don’t forget to keep stirring! Meanwhile, add the other egg and 50g cheese to the mincemeat and keep simmering.
Put a thin layer of mincemeat in a rectangular baking tin, then a lasagne sheet, then a thin layer of bechamel sauce, then another lasagne sheet, then a thin layer of cheese, then another layer of mincemeat, another lasagne sheet, another layer of bechamel sauce, another lasagne sheet and another handful of cheese; repeat this procedure until you’ve used up all the ingredients, and top with the last bit of cheese. Bake in the oven at 180° for 40 minutes – fantastico!
Tortellini al forno
500g tortellini, 300g ham or bacon, 200ml cream, 250g grated cheese, salt, pepper, olive oil
Even simpler and faster than lasagne, you can do tortellini in the oven with a cream sauce: first, cook the tortellini for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, cut or cube the ham or bacon.
Put the tortellini in an oiled baking tin together with the ham or bacon, add the cream, salt and pepper and top with the cheese, and bake in the oven at 220° for 20 minutes – simple as that!
500g mincemeat (lamb), 2 onions, 1kg mashed potatoes, 2 carrots, 200g peas (tinned or frozen), 200ml passata, 30g butter, 2tsp Worcestershire sauce, ½ vegetable stock cube, salt, pepper, oil
Here’s an old British oven favourite beloved by young and old, and quite easy to do, too. If you can’t find any minced lamb, you can do it with minced beef instead, which will turn it into a cottage pie!
Chop the onions and slice the carrots and fry them in oil with the peas, then add the mincemeat. Season with salt and pepper, add the passata, the Worcestershire sauce (if you haven’t got any, the best substitute is vinegar), 100ml water and the stock cube and let simmer for 15-20 minutes; add some more water if necessary. You can buy your mashed potatoes ready, or use powder to prepare it while the mincemeat is simmering.
Put the mincemeat in a big oiled baking tin, top with the mashed potatoes and butter flakes, and bake in the oven at 180°C for 35-40 minutes.
8 slices white bread, 200g grated cheese, 100ml milk, 150ml beer (preferably Guinness), 1tsp Worcestershire sauce, 2tsp mustard, salt, pepper
Yes, the Welsh have got a very famous oven dish, too! It’s easy to do, and it makes a great brunch or snack or even a light vegetarian dinner.
Heat up the milk in a medium pot, then add the cheese and stir well; add salt, pepper, mustard and Worcestershire sauce (again, if you haven’t got any, use vinegar as a substitute) and the beer and let simmer on a low flame for 8-10 minutes until it’s really nice and creamy; don’t forget to keep stirring! Preheat the oven to 220°.
Toast the bread slices and put them on a baking tray laid out with baking foil (you can also use fresh bread that doesn’t need to be toasted); pour the sauce on top of them and bake in the oven for 5-6 minutes. Serve with some more beer!
I hope you’ve all found something here that aroused your interest, dear friends; happy cooking, and take care, till next time!