I think a pasta bake fits our definition of hearty winter fare. Here's what I made last night.
Which sounds like the name of an Italian Formula One driver, or at least of his car. But no! It is a whole lot slower than either of those. I believe it means stuffed snail shells; which, while not being such a good title, at least gives you some idea of what you are about to eat.
You could use any large shells, but these lumaconi have a neat little 'handle' separating the holes - one smaller and one larger - in each end, which serves as both a restraining strap for the stuffing and a handle with which to set them into the baking dish. You'll see what I mean when you prepare them.
Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted and oiled water and drain carefully. The oil should help prevent the insides sticking together once cooked and drained.
Prepare the stuffing: place in a food processor a dozen pitted black olives (I used Greek mammoth kalamata); half a cup of chick peas; a small can (85g) of quality tuna in oil with the oil; half an inch of mild chili; a cup of grated cheese (whatever you have on hand, I used cheddar and it was fine but half-and-half ricotta and parmesan would be perfect); six chopped spring onions; a clove of garlic and a third of a cup of tomato concentrate. Process twenty seconds. You want a mixture with reasonably discrete bits, not a puree. The mixture should be moist but stiff: more tomato to loosen, more beans or cheese to thicken.
Place large teaspoons of stuffing into pasta. Use thumb of hand holding lumaconi to assist by pressing down lightly over teaspoon as it is withdrawn, to effect a clean transfer of stuffing. Place each in a baking dish sized to hold twenty stuffed lumaconi snugly, over a half-inch layer of diced canned tomatoes. Cover with lid or foil and bake until stuffing is warm. Remove from oven, scatter fresh breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese over, bake another ten minutes.
These are highly delicious, intensely flavoured little pasta packages and seven or eight will satisfy. I had additional cooked unstuffed lumaconi left over, so I placed these in another casserole, laced them with butter and cheese and popped them into the oven for five minutes.
Stuffed lumaconi with the buttery cheesy ones on the side makes one of the nicest winter pasta dishes I can imagine. Serve with crusty bread and a semillon, not too cold.