Sunday, October 18, 2009
"Hold my hand Buela so you don't get lost", my niece said as she looked up at my mom, gearing up to make her way through the crowd of people in Old Town, St. Augustine. Olivia (we call her "Livi") just turned three years old, but I cannot imagine what life would be like without her. I would also never have realized important things like the purple horsie on the carousel is the best horsie in the whole world and that eating superman ice cream makes your tongue turn blue (even if you just sneak a small bite...it really is incriminating). Even though I live across the country, I think about her everyday.
I don't have any cute quotes for you yet from my second niece, Charlotte. She is just shy of six months and the sweetest little baby. She let me walk around the house with her in my arms for almost an hour. I mean, if you know babies, you know that is not something they let you do if your name is not "Mommy". She is adorably chunky which I can appreciate since I was a nice "healthy size" when I was younger (except I am sure she will grow out of it before I did). Even though this is my first time being with her, I have felt connected to Charlotte since the day she was born.
These two girls are so precious to me and the obsession of their paternal grandparents, affectionately known as "Buela" and "Grandpa".
I introduce to you these girls because without their help, we may not have been able to enjoy the recipe for this posting. Livi was a little helper in the kitchen, crushing pita chips into bread crumbs and taste testing the carrots, pasta, and cheese. She also actually ate the finished product so I can confidently mark this recipe as "kid friendly". Charlotte didn't do much in the kitchen, but she did sit in her little baby chair playing with her toys and smiling. It was just so darn cute. I think you will agree.
Something to Smile About Greek Baked Ziti
(slightly adapted for budget and convenience from a Rachel Ray recipe)
1 pound ziti
2 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 pound ground beef or lamb
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped or grated
1 tsp ground thyme
2 pinches ground cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 15-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
4 tbsp butter, divided
4 tbsp flour
3 cups milk (not skim)
2 pinches ground nutmeg
1/2 C grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 C crumbled feta cheese
1 1/2 C pita chips
1/4 C flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt and ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Boil pasta according to box instructions for "al dente". Drain and set aside.
In a separate large pan, brown meat over medium heat until no longer pink.
Add onions, carrots, garlic, cinnamon, thyme, allspice and salt and pepper to taste to the browned meat and continue cooking until veggies are tender (about 5 minutes).
Add canned whole tomatoes to the meat, breaking them up into the meat mixture with a spoon.
Allow meat sauce to simmer for about 10 minutes.
In a separate pot, heat 2 tbsp of butter over medium heat. When butter is melted, add the flour and cook for 1 minute.
Use a wire whisk to add the milk, nutmeg and pinches of salt/ pepper.
Simmer sauce until it thickens (about 5 minutes). Remove from heat and add the Parmigiano Reggiano and a 1/2 C of the feta cheese to the sauce.*
Crush pita chips into chunky crumbs by placing them in a plastic ziploc bag and getting an adorable three year-old to firmly tap the bag with her plastic sippy cup (you can in fact do this yourself if you don't have an adorable three year-old on hand).
Transfer the crumbs to a small bowl and toss with the remaining cheese and parsley. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and add it to the breadcrumb/cheese mixture.
Toss the cooked pasta with half of the white sauce. Transfer half of the pasta to a casserole dish and pour the red sauce over top. Cover the red sauce with the remaining pasta and pour the remaining white sauce over the top of the dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumb-cheese mixture over everything and bake until light golden brown and bubbly, about 30 minutes.
*Parmigiano Reggiano is a pretty expensive cheese. I replaced most of it with feta in this adaptation, and I bet it would be fine if you just went ahead and replaced it all with feta. I have to be honest; I left the feta out of the dish and replaced the Parmigiano Reggiano with Romano and Parmesan this time (this is the second time I have made it), and it was much better with the feta.