The Art of Pandemic Cooking - Ziti Edition
Jeanne does the art. Steve, (her husband) runs the business.
We love Italian food.
The global pandemic has been both a blessing and a curse when it comes to this obsession. Of course, not being able to go out as frequently and enjoy the ambiance of a good Italian restaurant with its delicious culinary delights, is a curse.
The blessing is that the Pandemic has afforded us an opportunity to improve our craft of Italian cooking at home.
Making the best of the cooler November weather recently, Steve embarked on the weekend delight of cooking up an amazing Baked Ziti.
Wikipedia describes Baked Ziti as “a popular casserole with ziti pasta and a Neapolitan-style tomato-based sauce characteristic of Italian-American cuisine. It is a form of pasta al forno.
Typically, the pasta is first boiled separately until it is nearly, but not completely, done. The almost-cooked pasta is added to a tomato-based sauce. The tomato-coated pasta is then combined with cheese, typically a mixture of ricotta, mozzarella, and parmesan. Other ingredients can be added with the cheese, such as ground meat, sausage, mushrooms, peppers, and onions. The combined ingredients are placed in a baking dish, covered with mozzarella cheese, baked in the oven and served hot.”
Sounds amazing doesn’t it? In short, a Baked Ziti is delicious goodness on a plate, and the Baked Ziti created by Steve the other weekend didn’t disappoint. In fact, it was one of his better efforts - as he continues his quest for perfecting this decadent dish.
Here is his process. Give it a try - and let us know how yours comes out.
The secret to a good Ziti is the sauce, and this is where the Ziti adventure begins. The sauce is made before any thought of pasta or cheese. All attention is given to creating a perfectly balanced, aromatic and flavorful tomato sauce. It all starts with the sauce!
Since the Ziti is even better with meat baked in, Steve opted for a meat sauce this weekend. If you are vegan or don’t prefer meat, then it can be easily omitted.
Here are the base ingredients for the sauce:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil ( EVOO)
1 pound ground beef (Using Ground Turkey works equally as well)
1 pound sweet or hot Italian Sausage
3 cloves garlic crushed
1 tablespoon oregano
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup red or dry white wine (Steve uses red wine)
Heat EVOO and 1 lb. ground beef in Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season with salt and pepper. Add sausage, onion and spices and crumble both until caramelized, breaking the meat up into small bits.
When the pepper snaps and the garlic sizzles, and the meat is caramelized add the tomato paste, cook for a minute, then deglaze with ½ cup of red wine.
Now more Ingredients:
1 Cup Chopped Onion
1 Tablespoon Chopped Basil
1 32-ounce can chunky-style crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper
1/2 tsp oregano
1 handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped (Optional)
Using your hands, crush the tomatoes and add them with their juice to the saucepan.
Bring to a boil, stirring, then lower the heat
Stir in Parsley and Basil and oregano and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 30 minutes.
Season to taste with salt, pepper and Italian Seasoning - if you like - try melting in Parma Cheese instead of salt.
We have two things to say about that sauce.
You can put the sauce in the fridge and build your Ziti later.. Or you can forge ahead.
1 pound ziti rigate
1 pound fresh mozzarella
1 pound Italian cheese mix
One 15-ounce tub whole-milk ricotta
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, plus more for sprinkling
2 tablespoons Chopped Basil, plus more for sprinkling
Salt and pepper
In a bowl, mix 2 cups of the grated mozzarella, the ricotta, parmesan, parsley, eggs and some salt and pepper. Stir together just a couple of times (do not mix completely).
Cook the pasta for about 6 minutes, just shy of al dente. Toss the pasta with the Cheese Mixture and 3-4 Cups of the sauce.
Add half the coated pasta to a large casserole dish or lasagna dish. Spoon half of the remaining sauce over the top, then top with mozzarella & sprinkle with the Italian Cheese & Basil.
Repeat with another layer of the coated pasta and the remaining sauce and sprinkle with Italian cheese a few dollops of ricotta and parsley.
Bake from room temperature at 400ºF, until the cheeses are melted and bubbly, 20 minutes.
We recommend putting the baking dish on a foil lined cooking sheet.. because we like to load up the casserole to the very top and therefore run a good chance of it bubbling over when cooking.
If cooking from refrigerated or frozen, after the pasta comes to room temperature, cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then uncover to lightly brown, another 10-15 minutes.
Doesn't that look amazing! I'm hungry just looking at it.
We love this dish with a nice Pinot Grigio. You can also try a red blend or Chianti - which go well with the flavors of a bold spicy Italian sauce.
What does a Baked Ziti have to do with art? You decide...
That Baked Ziti is clearly a work of art.
Michelangelo was an artist and Italian - what more do you need?
That sauce is an absolute inspiration.
Who can paint on an empty stomach?
Who cares ? It's delicious!
We'll go with option 5. Let us know what you think.
That it's. We hope you give it a try.