BAKED ZITI: A Go-To Favorite!

ziti textBAKED ZITI is, admittedly, not a very pretty dish. But it’s absolutely delicious, and a kid-pleaser, to boot. (With my picky-eater children, this is a huge thing!)

The most time consuming part about BAKED ZITI is preparing the marinara sauce. This takes about 15 minutes for the normal person, and about 25 minutes for obsessive people – like me – who rather than buy canned chopped tomatoes, buy canned whole and then cut out the stem ends, imperfections, and any skin. THEN I chop them. (I’m not sure the companies do all that – I suspect they just wash them and throw them in a machine.)

However, if you like this BAKED ZITI recipe, next time double, triple, etc. the marinara and freeze in portions for future use. The rest of the recipe is very easy and quick.

I guess this would be a good time to acknowledge that while the preparation is fast, the bake time is 1 hour, plus a 20 minute set time. BUT THIS IS ALL HANDS OFF!!!

BAKED ZITI – makes 5-6 servings (unless you have a teenager)

Marinara:

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 14 oz tomato sauce
  • 8 oz canned whole tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried or 1½ fresh oregano
  • 1/4 cup + 1 T fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper

Casserole:

  • 1/2 lb uncooked ziti (or other tubular pasta)
  • 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 egg
  • 2¼ oz (3/4 cup) Parmesan cheese, grated, divided
  • 1/2 lb whole milk cottage cheese
  • 3½ oz (1 cup) Mozzarella cheese, shredded, divided

If you already have the marinara sauce made, then go straight to the Casserole instructions.

Marinara:  In a large skillet or saucepan heat the olive oil over medium flame. Add in the garlic and sauté about 30 seconds – until fragrant. Turn off heat and add in the tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, and oregano. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then lower flame to maintain the simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes to thicken a bit. lasagna prep15Turn off heat and stir in 1/4 cup basil, sugar, and pepper.

Casserole: Bring 2 quarts of water to a full boil. Add in 1/2 T salt and the ziti. ziti7Cook for 5 minutes. SET A TIMER! You don’t need to cook it fully right now – it will continue to cook in the oven. Pour pasta into a strainer to drain, but don’t shake it to remove water.

While pasta is cooking, combine cornstarch and cream in a small bowl. flour-pasteIn another bowl, beat egg with a fork then mix in 1/2 cup (1.5 oz) Parmesan and cottage cheese. ziti6Once the pasta is draining, pour the cornstarch-cream mixture into the now-empty pot. Over a low heat, bring to boil.ziti8 Immediately turn off flame and stir in the cottage cheese mixture.  ziti9Add in half of the mozzarella and 1/2 cup of the marinara. ziti1Stir in the cooked ziti, breaking up stuck together pasta. ziti2Pour into an 8″ x 8″ casserole dish (or it’s equivalent). ziti3Top with remaining marinara sauce, then sprinkle on remaining mozzarella, followed by the rest of the Parmesan. ziti4Cover with a lid or foil and bake at 350º Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake an additional 30 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle on 1 T basil. ziti5Let set 20 minutes before serving.

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Fast And Easy FETTUCCINE PRIMAVERA: Molto bene!!!

Fettuccine Primavera

FETTUCCINE PRIMAVERA

Think “fettuccine” and the word “fattening” probably comes to mind. Well, if you want fettuccine alfredo, then “heart attack on a plate” is an appropriate leap. But the high calories and cholesterol come from the butter and cream, not the pasta. The noodles themselves are only about 210 calories per 1½ cup of cooked fettuccine.

Fettuccine Primaverde is one of those dishes I make when I want something light and/or fast. Washing and chopping the veggies is the longest part – cooking is done in about 5 minutes. If you make the pasta noodles (which I do), then it takes a bit longer. The last time I made Fettuccine Primaverde I used leftover fettuccine pasta from the night before, so I enjoyed the benefit of homemade noodles without the effort. Dinner was ready in 20 minutes!

This recipe makes enough for 3-4 people, depending on how large the portions are. If you purchase the pasta, cook the amount you’ll need. If you’re making the pasta, use 1½ cups flour and 2 eggs.

FETTUCCINE PRIMAVERA – makes 3-4 servings

  • 3 T butter
  • 3 T olive oil (I use extra virgin)
  • 3 garlic cloves, pressed
  • ½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 12 mushrooms (about 7 oz), coarsely chopped
  • 10 stalks asparagus, sliced into 1″ pieces
  • 1 red pepper, chopped
  • 1/3 cup kalamata olives
  • ½ cup vegetable stock (I use homemade: Homemade Vegetable Stock)
  • about ¼ cup Romano cheese, shredded
  • 1½ T pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 3-4 servings fettuccine pasta, cooked

Melt butter and oil together in 10″ skillet. Add in garlic and cayenne pepper. Sauté for 1 minute.

Add in mushrooms, asparagus, and red pepper. Sauté about 2 more minutes.

Add in vegetable stock and olives. Bring to a low boil. Let cook another couple of minutes. Test the asparagus – when it can be pierced with a fork, but is NOT mushy, it’s finished.

To serve, pile fettuccine pasta in a bowl or on a plate and ladle veggies over it. Sprinkle on cheese and pine nuts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ultimate Comfort Food: Mac and Cheese!

Homemade MACARONI & CHEESE, served with steamed broccoli and roasted carrots.

Homemade MACARONI & CHEESE, served with steamed broccoli and roasted carrots.

Much to my children’s amazement, I was once a child myself.  So I know first-hand that kids are creatures of habit. Example: If you give a child a cookie after dinner as a treat “just this once”, they will translate that to mean they will get a cookie after dinner “forever”. The battling will begin, and logic will never prevail because in their minds, they ALWAYS get a cookie after dinner.

When I embarked on motherhood I was determined to make it as easy on myself as possible. So I made everything from scratch – baby food, bread, pasta, yogurt, soups, and macaroni & cheese.

What’s that you say? Cooking from scratch doesn’t sound easy to you? First of all, it’s easier than you think – it just takes practice. Second of all, I would rather spend a few extra minutes preparing healthy food so my kids (aka, creatures of habit)  were used to what ‘the real thing’ tastes like. I knew in time they’d eat packaged and fast foods, but I was hoping that by then they would find those foods (laden with sugar, salt, preservatives, and additives) abhorrent.

I wish I could report that things went according to plan. Well, you can’t fight city hall, nor the big food companies.  These people know what they’re doing. My children loved all the junk foods the minute they tried them. And what’s not to like? The sole purpose of these foods is to taste good, thereby ensuring repeat business. (Walking down the chips aisle in the supermarket is the ultimate test of my will-power.)

Macaroni and cheese is standard fare to serve children.  Sadly, most kids only know the boxed kind, with its fake, orange colored cheese.  That’s all I knew growing up – my mother gravitated like a magnet to boxed, canned, and frozen foods. While she enjoyed good food, preparing it held little interest to her.

If your history with macaroni and cheese is with the boxed kind, you may feel like homemade is missing something…and it is. Check out the ingredients list on the package and you’ll see what – and they’re all unpronounceable. Stick with it and you’ll learn to appreciate homemade macaroni and cheese.  To cop the slogan from the old Coke commercial:  it’s the real thing!

NOTE: You can toss in cashews, cauliflower, peas, chopped spinach, etc.  This is a great (sneaky) way to add vegetables to the little ones’ diets. Also, change the cheese to suit your taste.  Try a jalapeño jack to spice things up. Or use up those odd bits of cheese you have in the fridge that you can’t bear to throw out because they’re still perfectly good. (Waste not, want not!!!)

MACARONI AND CHEESE

  • 6 oz dried elbow macaroni pasta (I use the large size)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¾ tsp dry mustard
  • 1 T water
  • 1 cup milk (I use nonfat)
  • 3½ cups cheese, shredded (I use medium cheddar)
  • 1 tsp butter
  • 1 egg, beaten

Boil the pasta until it’s almost soft – it will continue to cook in the oven with the other ingredients.

While the pasta is cooking put all but ½ cup of the shredded cheese in a bowl.  Stir the water, salt, and dry mustard together in a small bowl, then pour over cheese. Add in the milk and stir together. (I ‘rinse’ the mustard liquid bowl with the milk into the cheese so I can get every bit.)

When pasta is done, drain and return it to the cooking pot.  Blend in the butter and egg – do this on a cool surface (you don’t want to cook the egg). Transfer the pasta into a buttered 8″ x 8″ baking dish. Pour the milky cheese over the pasta, then sprinkle the reserved ½ cup cheese on top.

Bake uncovered at 350º Fahrenheit for 45 minutes, until browned.