Monday, November 10, 2008

Thanks - And A Recipe

First I want to say thank you all for your kind condolences on the recent loss of my grandmother. It's great to know this little online community is so supportive. You guys rock!

Thursday evening I was feeling down and not very hungry, but feeling a craving for comfort foods. The funeral was planned for Friday afternoon and I was bummed and tired and just plain out of it.

I decided to cook something that was comforting and would remind me of my grandmother. It had to be a hearty stick-to-your-ribs Italian-American dish that would be reminiscent of things she cooked for family dinners. I decided on baked ziti - a dish filled with pasta and creamy cheese and sauce. I would make those meatballs on the side to remember her lesson in meatball making.

I have to clarify that this is not actually baked ziti. It's baked rigatoni. It's not easy to find ziti anymore. Everything is penne, penne, penne. I think it ruins the aesthetic of the dish to have those point-tipped penne in there. You need the flat-tipped ziti. Rigatoni are shaped like big ziti rigate, so I used those instead of penne.

I made one adjustment once I got home with the groceries. I ended up not making the meatballs. I know that's a big surprise, but I was so run down, I didn't have the energy to roll and fry. I ended up just putting the meat directly into the sauce.

I had to show off these ingredients because all of these things came from the Tri-State area. Whole Foods, purveyor of goods from California and Central America, finally seems to be catching on.

My sauce. Oops. Grandma Tess was from the Bronx. It's GRAVY. I may have been too tired to make meatballs, but Sarah Palin will join PETA before I use anything red from a jar.

The cheese mix. Here was have ricotta for creaminess, mozzarella for binding, and parmiggiano-reggiano for saltiness and tang. Yes, I used pre-shredded mozzarealla. Have I mentioned I made my own sauce?

I wasn't hungry all day until I started mixing up this cheese.

My creation fresh out of the oven. I sprinkled lots more of that pre-shredded mozzarella on top.

Baked Ziti

1 pound ziti or rigatoni

For the Gravy
2 large cans crushed tomatoes
2 Tbl olive oil
1 pinch crushed red pepper flakes
4-6 cloves of minced garlic
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 pound ground turkey (or beef or whatever ground meat you want to use)
1 tsp salt

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add red pepper flakes and allow to infuse for a few seconds and then add the onions. Cook until soft and add the garlic. Cook until fragrant.

You can add the meat here directly to the pan. I used turkey, which is fairly lean, so I added it directly. Add to the onions and cook through. If you are using a fattier meat, cook it separately so you can drain off the fat (unless you prefer to keep the grease - I don't judge those who do). Add browned meat to the onions and continue with the recipe.

Add the tomatoes and salt and simmer for at least a half hour.

You will have more than you need from this recipe, so save some and freeze for a quick pasta meal when you need it.

For the Cheese Mixture
1 lb ricotta
1/2 pound mozzarella, shredded (plus more for sprinkling)
1/2 cup grated parmiggiano reggiano (or you can use the cheaper domestic parmesan)
1 Tbl chopped fresh parsley
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg (or a few grates of fresh)
Mix all ingredients together until well blended.

Cook pasta until just below al dente.

Heat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix all ingredients together in a buttered baking dish. Bake about 20 minutes or until nice and browned and bubbly.

Try to let it cool to a non-mouth-burning temperature before you stick your face in it.


Bellini Valli said...

This is truly a comforting dish:D

Peter M said...

My Italian neighbors often include a baked ziti/rigatoni dish in their Sunday of my gooey faves too!

Adam said...

I laughed my butt off at the Palin comment you made... that was awesome :)

I haven't seen ziti in so long I thought rigatoni was ziti for years and years. But then again, I don't pretend to be Italian. Baked ziti is one of my fave dishes though :)

Jugs? Haha Nice zinger :)

Theresa said...

I had to laugh when I saw the correction you made from sauce to GRAVY. That's what we called it too.

Heather said...

There's really something about a comfort food in the oven that nourishes the soul, isn't there? The body eventually catches on.

noble pig said...

Yes, ziti is scarce. When I find it, I buy tons of it. This is beautiful.

The Blonde Duck said...

The Baked Ziti looks lovely! My condolences on your grandmother.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Val - Thanks.

Peter - It's definitely a classic.

Adam - Well, rigatoni is technically ziti rigate - just bigger.

Theresa - (That was Grandma's name too!) I spent more time with my sauce-loving, New-England born maternal grandmother growing up, so it was always sauce to me and it drove everyone on my father's side of the family crazy. I compromised and called it gravy-sauce.

Heather - Considering how much cheese is in this dish, the body can catch on in ways we don't want it to. ;-)

Cathy - Thanks and I wonder what made ziti disappear. Most of the time I don't care if my pasta has a pointed or flat tip, but in this case, I really did.

Ducky - thanks.

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Mmmm! Comfort food at its finest! It looks terrific!

Maria said...

Baked pasta is always so tasty!! Glad you made this one!

Lo said...

Ah, the cheese of it all.

I love a nice baked pasta dish, and this looks amazing!

Interesting point about the ziti. I've been using chicciole for everything lately -- which is at least more ROUND than penne :)

Lucy said...

Sorry to hear of your loss ((hugs)).

Great looking baked pasta and I call it sauce ;-) In this big blogging world we're neighbors.... W. Harrison here ;-)

Bunny said...

I love anything smothered in cheese and sauce! This looks alot like what I make too, I just looked in my cabinet...I have ziti, I'll send it over! Thanks for stopping by and saying hello.

Emily said...

Ohhhhh wow. I need some of that right now.

Simply...Gluten-free said...

It think it is lovely the way food can give us a connection with loved ones.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Thanks for the continued comments. I promise I will have a new post completed with a new recipe tonight.

Thanks to the great community we have here in the food blog world, it seems I've made some new friends. I feel all sorts of warm fuzzies right now!

Complaint Department Manager said...

This looks pretty easy. I may try this, but might kick out the's a texture thing with me.

Sue said...

I hope it made you feel better...It sounds soooo good.