Sunday, July 19, 2009

Baked Ziti

My new crop of tomatoes, basil, and parsley inspired me to make some baked ziti from scratch. I've tried several recipes, and they were good enough, but my husband always complained that there was too much cheese.

I had a self-made roasted tomato sauce recipe in a notebook from a few years ago, and I used it as my guideline for this dish. It's pretty simple and adaptable.

Here's the garden stash. The tomatoes are Roma and Golden Girl. I grew everything except the garlic. I also used a homegrown onion.

The tomatoes are halved, seeded (dig a finger in the cavity and scoop them out), put in a baking dish, stuffed with a halved garlic clove (1 half clove in each tomato half), sprinkled with minced basil and parsley and some dried oregano, and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

The tomatoes are baked at 350º for about 40 minutes until soft. After removing them from the oven, let the baking dish sit, covered loosely with foil, for about ten minutes. Then, using a fork or your fingers, peel the skins off and discard. They should come off easily.

While the tomatoes rested, I cooked a half pound of bulk mild Italian sausage in a deep skillet, and deglazed the pan with 1/4 cup of dry red wine. I added the roasted tomatoes to the sausage and mashed everything together with a potato masher, breaking up the clumps of tomato. I also wound up mashing the garlic pieces with a fork, since they were still a bit firm.

Add 1 small white onion, diced, about 1/2 tsp. of red pepper flakes, and one roasted bell pepper from a jar, diced. Season with kosher salt and fresh pepper. I wound up adding a pinch of sugar at the end. Simmer the sauce until a bit of excess liquid remains. You don't want it completely reduced, because the pasta will soak up the liquid as it bakes.

When the sauce was simmering, I cooked a half pound of rigatoni/ziti in salted water until just al dente. Drain well and mix with the sauce in a greased 9" baking dish. Sprinkle a bit of fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano on top, cover with foil, and bake at 350º for about 30 minutes.

I thought that the pasta I used was a little too big for this dish. Next time, I'll probably use spirals or ditalini.

My new toy

This is my new toy, a Fluke infrared instant-read thermometer. It's not designed for kitchen use, but my boy Alton Brown uses one all the time and it looks handy. My husband gave this to me as an early birthday gift. You can instantly check the temp of a grill, oven, pot of oil, or skillet.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Playing catch-up

I've been living up to my blog name of late. I'm still cooking and baking, but until recently, I wasn't taking any pictures. Here's some stuff I've made recently.

Chicken Pasta Primavera:

I had a bunch of seasonal summer veggies on hand and wanted to make something fresh and tasty with pasta. Here's the saute of vegetables. The skillet includes zucchini, button mushrooms, onion, garlic, a yellow tomato, and roasted bell peppers from a jar.

Here's the finished dish. The vegetable saute was combined with grilled chicken breast. I tossed the pasta with a little chicken broth for flavor and sauce, mixed the whole mess together, and topped it with some freshly grated Parm.

Chicken Noodle Soup:

I don't have a recipe for chicken soup, and I never have. I just boil bone-in chicken pieces with a couple of breasts in a big stockpot of water with various amounts of dried spices, including poultry seasoning, granulated garlic, onion powder, celery salt, whole peppercorns, and a bay leaf. After the chicken is cooked, I strain the broth and de-bone the chicken pieces and chop the breasts.

I add the meat back to the broth, along with diced onions, carrots, and celery. I usually also toss in a couple of chicken bouillon cubes for extra flavor. Bring to a boil and add half a bag (about 6 oz.) of wide egg noodles.

When the noodles are cooked, I toss in a palmful each of chopped fresh Italian parsley and snipped fresh chives. It's awesome as leftovers, too.

Cheesecake with Cherry Topping:

I use Tyler Florence's recipe for the "ultimate" cheesecake. The secret to a crack-free cheesecake is slow mixing, and not over-mixing. It's baked in a water bath for 45 minutes, and removed while the center is still jiggly.

I flatly refuse to put canned, artificially red, cherry-flavored goop on top of my homemade cheesecake, so I threw together some cherry topping. It's super easy. Dump a bag of frozen tart cherries into a sauce pan with about half a cup of water, a little over 1 cup of sugar, a couple of teaspoons of cornstarch, and a dash of vanilla. Mix well and cook until bubbly. Chill.