My good friend Karin models with tonight's dinner!

I love cooking for friends – and tonight I made Baked Ziti for my friend Karin. Nothing says comfort food like some delicious baked pasta. She brought over a great fresh salad and we sat out on the deck and chatted the night away over DELICIOUS FOOD!

I posted the question about what makes a great baked pasta to Facebook – and the fans of Bob’s Cooking came up with some great ideas. Michael Armentrout and many others said  “Cheese!” – and it was a common chorus amongst ya’ll. Suggestions for cheeses included smoked mozarella, gouda, firehouse cheddar, parmesan, pecorino, belpaese and swiss. Another secret was brought up by Mark Rowe and Ron McKinnon – the use of nutmeg, which often makes people wonder where the nuttyiness comes from but if used as an accent, nutmeg or mace, the milder brother of nutmeg. Ron explained that the nutmeg is the seed, and mace is the ground lacy covering of the nutmeg seed. Either gives a subtle nutty taste to pasta sauce that people compliment every time. David Anderson likes balsamic vinegar in his sauce, and there were several votes for “MEAT!” from the rather meat-obsessed James Brembt as well as a chef I greatly admire, Ira Meyer. Some like it spicy with Joseph Richard suggesting red pepper flake and Pete Winowitch suggesting using spicy chorizo sausage. My foody buddy John Small had some vegetarian ideas – including an emphasis on fresh herbs and suggesting haddock as a great alternative.

I love how Facebook can turn a simple question into a fun conversation about food. So here is my recipe for Baked Ziti. I always am looking for ways to do portion control. It’s either that or Dave will find me out on the patio at 2am face first in the leftover cheesy baked pasta. and while that might be fun int he moment – its not good for my wasteline. So this recipe makes individual ramekins of baked pasta – and we served it with a salad and a lovely lemon italian soda.

ENJOY!

 

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 oz of sliced mushrooms
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 teaspoon fresh basil, crumbled
  • 3 teaspoon fresh oregano, crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 14-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, drained, chopped
  • 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 pound cooked ziti pasta
  • 1/2 cup part skim ricotta
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozarella
  • 1/2 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Precook off your pasta and set aside, drained and covered.

In a frypan, fry up the ground beef – and once its starting to brown – add the spices and diced onion. (Do not add the nutmeg, that comes later) Once the beef is completely brown, add the tomatoes, tomato sauce and red wine.  Set aside.

In a saute pan – cook the mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of olive oil for about 3-5 minutes on medium-high heat, about halfway through add the nutmeg. Mushrooms are so awesome at this stage because they are very susceptible to new flavors, adding the nutmeg (careful not to over measure) here – lets the mushrooms spread the nutmeg through out the dish giving it that nutty edge without taking over.  Add the mushrooms to your meat sauce.

In a separate bowl, mix your ricotta and mozzarella together – adding the olive oil. to this mixture add the pasta and ground beef tomato sauce.

in individual ramekins – fill the ramekin to just about the top with the pasta mixture – then top with fresh grated Parmesan.

In the oven – place a oven save glass dish with two cups of water, this will allow for some humidity in the oven so things don’t dry out. Then put the individual ramekins in the oven on a baking pan at 400 for approx. 20 minutes – watching carefully and only cooking till the cheese on top of each dish is brown and bubbling.