Last-gasp tomatoes are still OK if given a little oven love. Here they get a brief pre-roast to heighten the flavour and sweetness before going into a smoky, tomatoey base with ricotta, kale and smoked almonds. Such a comforting dish yet still light enough to not need stretchy pants and a good lie down afterwards.
6 ox-heart tomatoes or large tomatoes, halved
1 tbsp olive oil
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
½ tbsp chipotle powder
¼ cup smoked almonds, roughly chopped
zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup semi-dried tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
500g large pasta shells
400g can crushed tomatoes
½ bunch cavolo nero leaves, stems removed and sliced (about 1 cup sliced leaves total) plus a few leaves coarsely torn, to serve
1 ball buffalo mozzarella (about 125g), sliced
1 large handful basil leaves, coarsely torn
1 tbsp olive oil, to serve
1. Preheat the oven to 180C fan-forced (200C conventional) and line a large, high-sided roasting tray with baking paper. Spread out the tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Roast for 20 minutes or until softened and caramelising around the edges. Remove the tomatoes and set aside, discard the baking paper.
2. To a blender add the ricotta, chipotle, almonds, lemon zest, semi-dried tomatoes and garlic. Blitz to a creamy consistency.
3. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add the pasta shells and cook for a few minutes less than the suggested cooking time. They will be getting a little more cooking time in the oven, so don't cook the shells all the way.
4. Spread the tinned tomatoes across the base of a the same high-sided roasting tray. Add the roasted tomatoes and most of the cavolo nero, reserving a few leaves to serve. Add the pasta shells and fill any upward-facing shells with the ricotta mixture. I did not opt to fill the shells individually – this is meant to be a relatively quick and comforting dinner after all – just the upturned ones. Dollop any residual ricotta mixture in and around the pasta shells.
5. Top with the mozzarella and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the pasta has cooked through. If you are worried there is insufficient liquid, or it's evaporating too quickly, you can gradually add a splash of water, but you don't want this to get mushy.
6. Carefully remove from the heat and scatter over the reserved cavolo nero and basil leaves. Season generously with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil, and serve.