Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Baked Ziti for Adults

Baked ziti is one of those things that really bring me back to being about 8 years old. It reminds me of organized sports, the town Rec department, kids en mass carb loading for a big game. It’s easy and cheap to whip up a steaming tray of gooey baked ziti that will easily please most palates. And I was craving the good stuff, baked cheese and pasta, the brown and bubbly straight from the oven kind with crunchy cheese crust around the edges, gobs of melted cheese that pulls into delectable strands with each bite and creamy tomato sauce that sticks to chunky al dente pasta.

Seeing as how I am an aspiring foodie, I decided to go about feeding my baked ziti craving in as “refined” a manner as possible without losing that quintessential homey kid feeling of it all. And amazingly enough I was able to use up stuff I already had in my house! After rummaging around the freezer, frige and cabinets, A Girl and Her Kitchen’s Unstuffed Shells Baked ‘Ziti’ was born and it was lip smacking good. Taking some of my favorite stuffed shells flavors, pulling them out of the shells and mixing all the ingredients baked ziti style with large shell pasta instead of the massive fist size shells from the classic dish was, if I may say so, a freakin’ stroke of genius.

This is definitely a ‘make it your own’ recipe because you can mix and match any flavors and ingredients you like. I chose to use both sweet and hot savory Italian turkey sausage, sautéed onions and bell peppers, creamy ricotta cheese, spicy Arriatbatta sauce (from a JAR!), a can of fire roasted tomatoes and a ton of mozzarella cheese (or course). Adding in fresh basil and a couple handfuls of frozen peas gave the dish a wonderful kick. But this is a method, so use what you like and make it your own (or use mine because it is totally fabulous!) :-)

Unstuffed Shells Baked ‘Ziti’
(A Girl and Her Kitchen)
  • 1 lb box of large shell pasta
  • 6 turkey sausages (mix of sweet and hot Italian styles)
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced (any color except green)
  • 1 15oz container ricotta (whole milk or part skim ok)
  • 1 12oz hunk of mozzarella cheese, divided into 2 hunks
  • ½ cup pecorino romano, grated
  • ½ cup parmesan, grated
  • Handful fresh basil, chopped
  • Mini handful fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (plus more to taste)
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper (plus more to taste)
  • 1 12oz can diced fire roasted tomatoes (try Multi-glen)
  • 1 jar Arriabatta sauce (your favorite brand, if you don’t like spice, regular marinara will work)
  • 2 handfulls frozen peas
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
In a large pot, heat water for pasta. Once boiling, salt generously (i.e. a handful or more of kosher salt). Cook pasta per package instructions though skim a minute off cooking time (or two if you like al dente final product) as pasta will continue to cook in oven. Once the pasta is done, drain and set aside.
While pasta water is boiling, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large sauté pan. Take the turkey sausage out of it’s casing by running a knife down the length of it or using a scissors to cut through the casing. Brown the sausage over medium-high heat until it is largely cooked through (about 5 minutes) using a wooden spoon to break up the sausage. Pour off most of the fat (liquid that has accumulated at the bottom of the pan), put the sausage in a large bowl and set aside.
In the same sauté pan add one tablespoon of olive oil and sauté onions on medium heat for 3 minutes. Add garlic, salt and black pepper and sauté for one minute more. Add bell peppers and sauté for a final 3-4 minutes until vegetables are tender.
While vegetables are cooking, cut mozzarella into two even hunks. Dice one half of the mozzarella and shred the other. Set aside.
Add sausage back into sauté pan with vegetables and mix to combine. Add can of diced tomatoes and their juice, oregano and red pepper flakes (if using) and simmer for 3 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Put mixture into bowl and set aside to cool slightly.
Once the pasta is cooked, add it to the sausage and vegetable mixture and combine well so all pasta is coated. Add 2/3 of the jar of sauce, peas, basil, parsley, parmesan and pecorino cheeses and mix thoroughly. Finally add the diced mozzarella and stir. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed.
Pour the mixture into a 9x13 baking dish. Spread out evenly with a spoon and then spread the last 1/3 of the jarred sauce across the top. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella on top and if feeling decadent grate some additional pecorino and parmesan on top as well.
Bake at 400º for 30 minutes until bubbly and lightly golden. Serve immediately (or wait 5 minutes so you don’t burn your mouth.)
Yields 8 servings

1 comment:

  1. Reading these posts always make me hungry!!!
    The family watched Julie and Julia this weekend and I thought of you! Keep the good recipes coming, we are enjoying them!!