Monday, January 09, 2006

Baked Ziti

Dinner For Eight

Happy New Year everybody!

It’s your lovely and talented cooking blogger, The Redneck Gourmet, back here on the keyboard with my first recipe of 2006—Baked Ziti.

We had five family guests and our 85 year old neighbor, Mr. Harlan “Bucky” Strader (Dartmouth class of 1942), up here in the Condo last Friday night for dinner, and at Pat’s suggestion I tossed together a simple buffet style meal consisting of some fresh Sundried Tomato Basil bread from our local grocer’s Deli, an organic mixed green salad, and, of course, the baked Ziti.

Don’t be afraid, because Ziti, simply put, is just a big fat tubular shaped pasta noodle, about 2” long and 3/8” in diameter. Baked Ziti, therefore, is almost like baked lasagna (the familiar flat form of pasta.)

Here’s what you will need to make dinner for eight, with leftovers if everyone doesn't eat like a pig:

(2) pounds of dry Ziti noodles
(2) 8 oz containers of Ricotta cheese
(2) 12 oz packages of shredded Mozzarella cheese

For the Sauce:

(4) tbsp good olive oil
½ large onion, diced fine (or as much as you like, it’s your sauce)
(2) cloves of garlic, diced fine

1 tbsp dried Oregano
1 tbsp dried Parsley
1 tbsp dried Thyme
1 tbsp dried Basil (or fresh if you have it)
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
1 tsp black pepper

(1) 14 oz can beef broth
(1) 14 oz can chicken broth
(3) 28 oz cans pureed tomatoes
(2) 7 oz cans tomato paste
(3) 6 oz cans portabella mushroom pieces

½ pound ground pork

Here we go…

Dump the olive oil into the bottom of a large, heavy boiler over medium heat, then toss in your diced onion and let it cook for a couple of five or six minutes before you add your garlic.

Keep cooking for ten minutes or so, being careful not to burn anything.

Now add your spices—Oregano, Parsley, Thyme, and Basil. Stir the mixture up and let the oil and juices activate the flavor in the spices.

Doesn’t that smell good?

Now dump in your can of beef stock and scrape the bottom of the boiler to get all of the bits suspended in your liquid. Add the pureed tomatoes and tomato paste, and reduce your heat to medium low.

Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, brown your ground pork and spoon off any extra fat that cooks out of your meat. (My pork was surprisingly lean, so I just ignored this step.)

Once the pork is browned, add it to your sauce mixture along with half the can of Chicken broth and the Portabella Mushrooms, toss a lid on the boiler, and let everything simmer for a couple of hours.

Watch your temperature and stop by to stir your sauce every fifteen minutes or so. Try not to enjoy the aroma too much…and if things get too thick too fast, add the other half can of chicken broth.

My sauce cooked for almost three hours by the time I was ready to finally put the dish together, then I cooked my Ziti in some lightly salted water according to the package directions (about 10 minutes.)

Drain your Ziti through a colander, then coat two 9”x13” casserole dish with Pam cooking spray or olive oil.

Now comes the fun part, putting it all together…preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Spoon a thin layer of your tomato sauce into the bottom of your casserole dishes, and then spread ½ of your ziti noodles on top. Now divide your Ricotta cheese in half and spread it over the noodles. Sprinkle half of your Mozzarella cheese on top of the Ricotta.

Add another layer of Ziti noodles, another layer of tomato sauce, and top everything off with the rest of the Mozzarella cheese.

Step back from the counter and admire your work.

Doesn’t that look nice?

Mine did…

Pop the dishes into the oven for 30 minutes until it’s all nice and bubbly, then put your plates on the table, grab yourself a fork and EAT.

Regards Y’all

The Redneck Gourmet

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