Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Baked Comfort

The Academy Awards are coming up in a few weeks.

They will honor the best of the best of last year's movies. Of course this year, the academy has added the ever-so-controversial ten nominations (it used to be just five) for the "Best Picture" category. I don't have a major problem with this besides the fact that I can hardly think of ten movies I liked enough to even come close to receiving such an honor. The nominees this year are:

The Bind Side
District 9
An Education
The Hurt Locker
Inglourious Basterds
A Serious Man
Up in the Air

Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart"
George Clooney in "Up in the Air"
Colin Firth in "A Single Man"
Morgan Freeman in "Invictus"
Jeremy Renner in "The Hurt Locker"

Matt Damon in "Invictus"
Woody Harrelson in "The Messenger"
Christopher Plummer in "The Last Station"
Stanley Tucci in "The Lovely Bones"
Christoph Waltz in "Inglourious Basterds"

Sandra Bullock in "The Blind Side"
Helen Mirren in "The Last Station"
Carey Mulligan in "An Education"
Gabourey Sidibe in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"
Meryl Streep in "Julie & Julia"

Penélope Cruz in "Nine"
Vera Farmiga in "Up in the Air"
Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Crazy Heart"
Anna Kendrick in "Up in the Air"
Mo'Nique in "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"

The Oscars are not only a time of year we honor the new movies that might someday become classics, but we also a time to honor the classics themselves. So let's make some classic food, shall we? Baked Ziti is a comfort food for anyone with an appetite for warm, meaty, flavorful, noodley, cheesiness. It is easy to make (the theme of this time of year) and very satisfying. I like to make a huge batch and save the rest in the freezer to last for a few more meals. I have made it a couple different ways in the past year, and it seems to me that baked ziti is really just something you need to adjust to your liking. I like a lot a lot of meat so I lean towards a pretty heavy amount. I also like the tomato sauce to really stand out (even though I was in a hurry this time and did not end up with a good sauce). Some people like ricotta cheese in their ziti, but I prefer to leave the ricotta to the lasagna. However, I think it would be nice in a vegetarian version (possibly with some mushrooms added as well). You an buy your favorite tomato sauce or make your own. I also added just a little bit of Italian sausage to the dish just for some added flavor. Zach suggested the dish did not need it, but I still like just a little bit of it. Here is how I made it, but this is something you should definitely tweak about to make your own:

1 lb ziti pasta, cooked al dente according to package*
1 lb ground beef
2 links spicy Italian sausage (optional), casings removed and chopped into small chunks
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves fresh garlic, sliced into slivers (about four slivers per clove)
3 C (about 24 oz) of flavorful tomato sauce
2 C shredded mozzarella (optional: sub one cup mozzarella for 1 C or 8 oz provolone cheese)
1 C shaved parmesan cheese

Preheat the over to 350 degrees F.
In a large pan, cook the all the meat with the chopped onion and garlic until the meat is browned.
Add the tomato sauce to the meat and stir thoroughly.
Add 1 cup mozzarella cheese (use the provolone here if you have chosen to substitute it) and 1/2 C of the parmesan to the meat/tomato mixture.
Stir the mixture into the cooked ziti pasta and transfer to a large casserole dish.
Sprinkle remaining mozzarella and parmesan cheese evenly over the top of the dish.
Bake uncovered for 40 minutes.

*I cannot explain why, but I much prefer actual ziti pasta which is chopped straight across on each end as opposed to penne pasta which is cut at a slant (even though I could not find the ziti pasta this time around). I also steer clear of the small ridges on the surface of the pasta. It is supposed to catch more of the sauce around it, but I find it has the opposite effect. I feel the sauce sticks to the flat surface much better.

1 comment:

The Boston Lady said...

Yum! I'm going to try adding the sausage next time - as you said this recipe can withstand many personal tweaks! You take great pictures.

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