Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Let's be honest. I like to toot my own horn for being an adventurous eater with a sophisticated palate and a few neat tricks in the kitchen. But when it comes down to it, is there really anything better than pasta with sauce and cheese? I'm gonna have to say no.
Unless, that is, it's pasta with sauce and cheese that's been baked to piping perfection, with spots of melted creamy mozzarella and bechamel swirled messily into the chunky rich tomato sauce, alternating with spots of crunchy, crispy, burnished crust of salty parmesan and bread crumbs, eaten at a table shared with good friends, alongside a delicious velvety glass of wine (or two), on a late Sunday afternoon right when those Sunday blues you've known since the age when life began to organize itself around Monday mornings and deadlines and homework, during a long, cold, gray month when apparently someone forgot to send a memo to the northeast letting us know it's actually SPRING and has been for quite some time.
Yup, nothing better.
Mario Batali's Ziti Al Telefono (or rigatoni, as is the case in the above photo) Makes 4 Servings (Ha. I was afraid this wouldn't be enough to feed us all, but we ended up sending some home with our guests, and eating it for days after. Don't fret.)
1 pound ziti
2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce (recipe below, or use your own)
2 cups Besciamella (recipe below)
1 pound fresh buffalo mozzarella, cut into 1/2 in cubes
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
Preheat the oven to 425. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt. Cook the ziti for 2 minutes short of the package instructions; it should be too al dente to eat. Drain and rinse under cold water until cool. Drain a second time and place in a large bowl. Add the tomato sauce, besciamella, mozzarella, and Parmigiano to the ziti and stir to mix well. Place the pasta into a casserole dish (or divide into 4 individual gratin dishes as Mario would have you do) and sprinkle with the bread crumbs (I sprinkled also with a bit of parmesan and drizzled some olive oil over the top.)
Bake for about 20 minutes, until bubbling and crusty on top.
Serve with Ina Garten's Roasted Broccoli if you know what's good for you.
Basic Tomato Sauce
Makes 4 cups
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 spanish onion, cut into 1/4 in dice
4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1/2 medium carrot, finely shredded
2 28-oz cans whole tomatoes
In a 3 qt saucepan heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 8-10 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juice, and bring to a boil, stirring. Lower the heat and simmer until thick, about 30 minutes. Season with salt.
Makes about 3.5 cups
5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Cook, stirring, until light golden brown, 6 to 7 minutes. Meanwhile, in another medium saucepan, heat the milk to just under a boil. Add the milk to the butter mixture about 1 cup at a time, whisking constantly until very smooth, and bring to a boil, whisking. Cook, whisking, until thickened, about 10 minutes; remove from the heat. Season with the salt and nutmeg. Transfer to a bowl and let cool, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use.