Archive for the ‘pasta’ Category

Some people don’t like cooking with veal because of the way the animals are treated, and I completely understand because I’m one of those. But…I’m fortunate that I can buy my veal from a nearby dairy farm, Sweet & Salty Farm in Little Compton, RI, where the animals are grass-fed and raised humanely. That makes for happier animals and incredibly flavorful meat…and no guilt about using it.

If you can’t get humanely raised veal, pork and beef work, too.

I also buy veal bones from Sweet & Salty Farm, roasting them on a sheet pan in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes, then placing them in a large pot of water. I take some chopped carrots, onions, and celery, toss them in a little olive oil, and place them on a sheet pan, roasting them in the oven until they’ve caramelized, then add them to the pot with the veal bones. The secret to a great veal bone broth is to boil the bones and veggies for as long a time as possible. Restaurants will do this for days, replacing the water in the pot as needed. At home, I’ll start the broth in the morning and finish it by evening, straining out the veggies and bones at the very end of the cooking time.

The subtle flavor of veal can get lost with heavy seasonings, so I keep it simple. The addition of veal bone broth amplifies the flavor and keeps the meatballs from drying out.

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1 lb. ground veal
1 cup toasted breadcrumbs (I use Udi’s bread to make it gluten-free)
2 teaspoons parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1 egg
extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. pasta, cooked firmer than al dente
2 cups veal bone broth or beef stock
salt and pepper for seasoning
2 tablespoons half-and-half
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup of frozen organic peas

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Make the meatballs: In a bowl, combine the veal, breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, garlic, onion and egg, mixing the ingredients thoroughly. Don’t over-mix.

Form the meatballs one by one, about golf ball size, and place them in an ovenproof pan. I line the pan with non-stick aluminum foil for easy clean up. Cook the meatballs for about 10 minutes. Don’t overcook them! (Even if you’re using pork, 10 minutes is OK because you will be cooking them longer. )

In a saucepan, heat the veal bone broth or beef broth. Once the meatballs have cooked in the oven, transfer them to the pot of broth and cover it with a lid, keeping the heat on low. If the broth doesn’t cover the meatballs, turn them every once in a while to keep them moist on all sides. Simmer the meatballs in the broth for about 30 minutes, then transfer them to a large sauté pan.

Turn the saucepan with the veal broth on high and reduce it to about 1/2 cup. Season it with salt and pepper.

In a large pot, cook the pasta to a bit firmer than al dente in well-salted water. Drain it and set it aside.

In the large sauté pan with the meatballs, add the butter and the half-and-half. Add the reduced veal broth, the pasta, and the peas.

Gently mix the ingredients in the pan until the peas have warmed through and the sauce clings to the pasta. Serve immediately.

What can I say? I was craving both dishes, so I combined them. I figured: if I love each one of them, I’d be crazy over both together!

 

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Pasta
1/4 lb. bacon, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
18 small clams, washed and purged*
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
1/4 cup white wine
Good quality olive oil
6 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped

 

In a large pot, salt some water and bring it to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente.

In the bottom of another large pot on medium-high heat, fry the bacon until it’s crisp. Add the onions and saute them until they’re translucent. Add the clams, oregano and wine, and cover the pot with a lid. Reduce the heat to medium. The clams are cooked when they open. Discard any unopened clams.

In a frying pan, heat the olive oil to medium. Add the chopped garlic and fry it until just crispy. Toss in the parsley and stir it to combine.

Place the pasta in a bowl or plate. Pour the clams and juice over the pasta. Pour the fried garlic and oil all over the clams.

 

*Purging clams: Clams can be pretty sandy and gritty, so it’s important not only to scrub the outside of the shell, but to purge them as well. Clams should be stored in a bowl in the fridge with a wet dish towel over them, never in water. Once you’re ready to use them, fill a bowl with water and add salt (think salty like ocean water) and a tablespoon of corn meal. Mix this around, then add the clams and let them sit in this solution in the fridge for a couple of hours. The clams will purge (clean themselves) out. Discard the liquid and rinse the clams before cooking.

I’m limiting my daily calorie intake on my new diet, but I’m not limiting flavor! Shrimp is a dieter’s best friend because it’s low in calories, high in protein, and delicious! A 4-ounce serving of the following recipe (without pasta) has just 224 calories!
Almost 95% of all shrimp sold in the United States comes from farmed shrimp in countries like China, Thailand, Vietnam and India…as well as Latin America. The stuff you buy at the supermarket comes frozen (since shrimp is highly perishable) and then is thawed out and placed on ice to make the display look nice. But the shrimp you’re getting is not “fresh” (unless you’re lucky enough to get some wild caught local shrimp) and it’s from countries where the methods of farming are questionable at best.
Shrimp farming in Asia and Latin America is destroying mangrove forests and because of that, coastal villages as well. Disease is commonplace in shrimp farms, so they’re pumped full of antibiotics and pesticides.
Imported wild shrimp are also a problem because of bycatch. For every pound of wild shrimp caught, several pounds of other animals such as turtles die needlessly in the trawler nets.
Wild-caught American shrimp is the best way to go for your health and the environment. American shrimp fishermen are required by law to reduce bycatch. For example, they’re required to use Turtle Exclusion Devices to stop turtles from being caught in their nets.

The real deal, from CajunGrocer.com.

On top of everything else, wild-caught American shrimp tastes better. And why shouldn’t it? The shrimp are eating their natural foods found in the wild…not some pellets thrown at them that contaminate the water and the shrimp themselves.
My favorite website for wild-caught American gulf shrimp is www.cajungrocer.com. I’ve been ordering my favorite Cajun foods, like Turduckens and alligator sausage, from these people for many years, but they also sell frozen shrimp and live crawfish (in season.) But just about every supermarket in the US now sells wild-caught American shrimp. You just need to read the label.
Don’t cheat yourself, your friends or your family out of something really special. Wild-caught American gulf shrimp costs the same, supports our economy, is better for you and tastes better.
The basics of this recipe come from my friend, Lee, a retired chemist in New Jersey who also enjoys creating in the kitchen. What I found interesting about his recipe was the touch of sugar that doesn’t really add sweetness but rather helps create the light, tasty caramelized crust that forms on the shrimp when you sear it. I tweaked a few things in this recipe, but the essence of it remains the same.

Seasoned shrimp.

 

1 lb. large peeled and deveined wild-caught American shrimp
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon sugar
4 tablespoons softened butter
1 clove of garlic, squeezed through a press
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
Extra Virgin olive oil
Toss the shrimp, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon sugar in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, mash the butter with a fork, folding in the garlic. Add the lemon juice, parsley, oregano, and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add half the shrimp in a single layer to the pan and cook it at high heat until it’s caramelized on one side, about 1 minute. Flip the shrimp over with tongs and cook for another 30 seconds. Don’t over-cook it!
Remove the cooked shrimp to a covered bowl and similarly sear the other half of the shrimp, then return the other half of the shrimp back to the skillet. Turn down the heat to medium and add the butter/garlic/lemon/parsley/oregano/salt mixture, occasionally tossing shrimp around in the pan to evenly coat them with the glaze.
If you’re serving the shrimp over pasta, you might choose to increase the amount of butter and olive oil to just lightly coat the pasta. (But I don’t, because I’m counting every calorie!) Toss the cooked pasta into the pan of shrimp to combine.
I like to season lightly at the end with a tiny pinch of Fleur de Sel. Serve immediately.
Shrimp is the perfect food to eat on a diet: full of protein and low in calories. Here’s the total calorie countdown for the entire recipe.
Shrimp = 360 cal.
Salt & Pepper = 0 cal.
1/4 tsp. sugar = 4 cal.
4 tablespoons butter = 408 cal.
1 tablespoon olive oil = 120 cal.
1 tablespoon lemon juice = 3 cal.
parsley, oregano = negligible.
Total calories: 895 for a dish that can serve 4! (Not including the pasta, of course.)

This dish is absolutely delicious and worth the effort. Despite the fact that we first had it in the middle of summer on a vacation to the beautiful island of Santorini, Greece, we always cook it around the holidays in wintertime. We don’t have access to that unusual Mediterranean lobster, but our cold water New England lobsters are a fine substitute!

Santorini gets a bad rap these days, because they’ve allowed the cruise ships to take over, and they just can’t support the massive crowds that invade this small, beautiful island every summer. Once you’ve opened the floodgates, it’s hard to suddenly turn around and tell tourists not to come. Santorini’s tourism industry drives the entire country of Greece. Sadly, it seems that many beautiful places in the world, once discovered by the masses, have to deal with this issues. (My beloved island of St. John in the USVI, is another example.)

But despite the hoards of tourists that swarm the island every summer, Santorini remains one of the most amazing places I’ve been to in my life. Having traveled there at least 4 times now, I know all the cruise ship tour bus routes and stops to avoid, and where I can still go to experience the real Santorini.

It was in one of those out-of-the-way places that we first had this dish. Taverna Giorgaros is a simple family-run restaurant that is on the road leading to the lighthouse, past the ancient ruins of Akrotiri. We’ve gone there every time we’ve visited Santorini, and only once did they have the freshly caught lobster that allowed us to enjoy this dish.

 

Where we first had our pasta with lobster sauce in Santorini.

Where we first had our pasta with lobster sauce in Santorini.

 

Love the signs!

Love the signs!

 

First, it’s absolutely important to make a good stock: the base for all the other flavors to follow.

 

Cooked lobster LTL

 

For the stock…
2 1-1/2 lb. lobsters, slightly under-cooked
12 cups water
1/2 onion, chopped into quarters
3 celery stalks, chopped into quarters
1 carrot, chopped into quarters

 

Under-cook (steam or boil, whatever your favorite method) the lobsters. (You’ll be cooking the meat again later.) Remove the lobster meat from the shells and set it aside.

Place the cleaned lobster shells, claws, tails, legs and bodies in a large pot. (You don’t want any of the internal organs or tommaley.) Crush the shells, if needed, so they fit in the pot. Add the water, onion, celery and carrot. Set the heat on high. Cook it until it’s reduced by half.

Strain the stock, discarding the lobster shells and veggies. Bring the stock back to the heat and reduce it until all you have left is 1 cup of intense stock.

 

Pasta with lobster sauce

For the lobster sauce…
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
pinch of Italian red pepper flakes
teaspoon fresh chopped parsley
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup lobster stock
1/4 cup San Marzano tomato sauce (see below)
splash of dry un-oaked white wine (I use an Australian Chardonnay)
salt and pepper

 

Final ingredients…
reserved lobster meat
1/2 lb. cooked pasta

 

Add some olive oil to a large pan and sauté the onions until they’re translucent. Season them with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and cook for 10 seconds. Add the red pepper flakes and parsley.

Add 1/4 cup of the lobster stock and let it cook, reducing by half. Add the other 1/4 cup of lobster stock and the tomato sauce. Let it cook for a couple of minutes and add the white wine. Cook for a few minutes more.

Cook the pasta and drain it before it reaches the al dente stage. Place the pasta in the pan with the sauce, heating and coating thoroughly. Add the reserved lobster pieces and warm them through, tossing in the sauce. Serve immediately.

For the San Marzano tomato sauce: Pour a can of whole San Marzano tomatoes in a food processor and blend. Pour the sauce into a pan and reduce it over medium heat by half, until the sauce has thickened. Use this sauce in the recipe.

I love shrimp scampi, and had the need to satisfy my cravings the other day. But what started as a simple scampi recipe, turned into something a bit more. I may never make scampi the same way again!

 

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1 lb. wild-caught American shrimp, peeled and de-veined
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons parsley
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons Spirgučiai (see below)
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, sliced
oregano, for sprinkling

 

Thaw the shrimp under cold water. Place in a colander to drain.

Spirgučiai is a Lithuanian favorite: chopped bacon and onions, fried until crisp and usually sprinkled over anything and everything in Lithuanian cooking. I always have some in my fridge, already prepared and just waiting to be used.

In a saucepan on medium heat, combine the butter, olive oil, parsley, garlic salt, oregano, onion, pepper and Spirgučiai.  Heat only until everything melts and combines. Don’t let it burn. (If you don’t have Spirgučiai, all you need to do is take a couple of slices of bacon, chop them up, and fry them in a pan until crisp. Keep the bacon and the fat in the pan and then add the butter, olive oil, parsley, garlic salt, oregano, onion and pepper.)

In a small sheet pan lined with foil, lay the shrimp in a single layer and cook them halfway in a pre-heated 400-degree oven to remove the moisture from the shrimp.

Take the pan out of the oven, and drain off the moisture, if any. Pour the butter mix from the saucepan all over the shrimp and toss to coat. Return the shrimp to the oven for a few minutes, until they’ve heated through and are almost completely cooked. (Careful: never over-cook shrimp!)

Take the pan out of the oven, and place pieces of mozzarella on top, garnishing with a little oregano. Set the oven on broil and cook until the cheese has melted.

Slice with a spatula and serve on top of pasta, making sure you get some of that buttery scampi sauce.

 

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As a low-carb option, you can serve this on broccoli or roasted spaghetti squash.

Although my daughter goes crazy for my Ragu Bolognese, pasta with meat sauce is one of the easiest things to make, with ingredients you probably have in your home. This sauce is really rich with flavor, and once you put all the ingredients together, it requires nothing more from you than an occasional stir every now and then.

 

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1/4 cup olive oil
3 strips bacon, finely chopped, raw or pre-cooked
1 onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon garlic salt
2 lbs. ground beef (I use grass-fed beef)
2 cans (28 oz. each) whole tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon anise seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
2 bay leaves
1 small can (6 oz.)  tomato paste

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In a large pot, heat the olive oil and add the bacon. Once the bacon is sizzling, add the onions and cook until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic salt and mix. Add the ground beef and cook until it has browned.

Pour the 2 cans of whole tomatoes into a food processor and blend until chunky…or go the old-fashioned route and simply squeeze the tomatoes with your hands, breaking them up. Pour the contents of both cans into the pot and stir well. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the orange tomato foam disappears.

Add the oregano, basil and parsley and stir. Add the salt and pepper and stir. Add the anise seed and fennel seed and stir. Throw in the 2 bay leaves and stir. (I think you get the idea, there’s a lot of stirring going on!)

When the sauce starts to boil, add the tomato paste and stir well. Let it come up to a boil again–the paste thickens best at high heat–then turn the heat down to a low simmer and cover the pot.

Let the sauce simmer on low heat for several hours. Whenever you walk by, give the sauce a good stir.

Serve the sauce over pasta, with some grated Parmiggiano Reggiano.

 

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As a teenager growing up on Long Island, I worked long hours at a local Italian restaurant called Pizza City East in Plainview. (The original Pizza City was in Ozone Park, Queens.) Though the pay sucked, I made some important friendships that have lasted to this day. I also learned many Italian cooking basics: how to open clams for red and white clam sauce, the secrets of great pizza dough, the art of a perfect espresso, and how to make massive quantities of baked ziti.

When I got older and I shared an apartment with my buddy, Don, we would regularly invite a large crowd of people over for a party, and a huge tray of baked ziti was an inexpensive and hugely popular way to feed a crowd that was doing some serious drinking.

The basic ingredients of baked ziti are the same as lasagna, the main difference being the wetness factor. If you make lasagna too wet, the thing will fall apart when you try to slice it. But baked ziti is meant to be sloppy, and it actually shines in its incredible gooiness!

My baked ziti consists of 2 sauces (a meat sauce and a bechamel sauce) and 4 cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, and Parmigiano Reggiano) using pasta that is boiled much firmer than al dente. Technically, I like to use penne, not ziti. It’s firmer, and really works well with this recipe. And there are plenty of great pasta choices out there for gluten-free diets. Our favorite brand of GF pasta is Garofalo.

 

Gooey and delicious!

Meat Sauce…
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 lb. grass-fed ground beef or pastured pork, or a combination of both
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil for sautéing

 

Heat a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the onions until translucent. I finely chop the carrots by peeling them all the way down until there’s nothing but a pile of peeled pieces, then chopping them up so small, they almost melt into the sauce. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beef (or pork) and cook the meat until it browns. Add the parsley, oregano, basil, salt and pepper and mix well.

Empty the can of tomatoes into a blender and blend it until smooth. Add this to the pan and mix well.

Cook the meat sauce for about 10 minutes, then remove it from the heat and set it aside.

 

Bechamel sauce…
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoon all-purpose flour (I use Cup4Cup flour to make it gluten-free)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups 2% milk

 

Bechamel is a basic white sauce. It adds a wonderful creaminess to lasagna or baked ziti.

Melt the butter in a saucepan under medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until you’ve combined the butter and flour and have a light roux.

Add the milk, and keep whisking, making sure you don’t get any lumps in the sauce. Season with the salt and pepper.

Keep whisking until the sauce thickens. Once it does, remove it from the heat and set it aside.

Beautiful baked ziti!

 

12 oz. small pasta, like ziti or penne
4 slices provolone cheese (about 4 oz.)
ricotta cheese (about 8 oz.)
mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 8 oz.)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

For baked ziti, use a deeper pan than you would for lasagna, about 4″ deep.

Take several large spoonfuls (about half) of the meat sauce and the béchamel sauce and mix them together in the pan.

Boil the pasta in a pot of salty boiling water until very firm…firmer than al dente. Drain the pasta and pour it into the pan with the sauces. Mix really well.

Tear the slices of provolone and add them to the pan, mixing them in. Mix in the ricotta cheese, and handful of the mozzarella, and all the Parmigiano Reggiano, stirring really well to get everything mixed together.

If there’s still room in the pan, keep adding equal parts meat sauce and béchamel sauce until you’ve used them up.

Smooth the top of the ziti mix flat with the back of a large spoon, then sprinkle the remaining mozzarella evenly over the top. Sprinkle a little oregano on top, and place the pan in the oven to bake for 30 minutes, or until the mozzarella on top is a beautiful golden brown.

 

Baked ziti, before baking.

 

 

The best mac and cheese ever: baked ziti!

 

Of course, when you’re cooking, there’s always someone hanging around to grab a taste of the baked ziti before it goes in the oven…

 

 

 

 

 

There’s still time to get all the ingredients that will make your Super Bowl party over the top!

Here are some links to my favorite recipes. All of them work really well when you want to feed a large group of hungry people, no matter what team they’re rooting for!

I’ve included classic chicken wing recipes, delicious ribs (without the need of a smoker or grill), classic Italian dishes, seafood and more.

 

CHICKEN WINGS AND DRUMSTICKS…

https://livethelive.com/2017/02/03/honey-glazed-chicken-wings-2/

https://livethelive.com/2019/01/10/spicy-brined-and-grilled-chicken-wings-2/

https://livethelive.com/2017/06/07/asian-style-chicken-wings-2/

https://livethelive.com/2017/05/07/mexican-chicken-wings/

 

PORK RIBS…

https://livethelive.com/2017/01/31/chinese-style-honey-ribs-for-the-big-game-2/

 

BEEF RIBS…

https://livethelive.com/2017/03/19/kona-beef-ribs/

 

 

SHRIMP COCKTAIL WITH SAUCE…

https://livethelive.com/2018/08/31/perfect-shrimp-cocktail-from-boil-to-sauce-2/

 

FRIED SHRIMP…

https://livethelive.com/2017/10/09/fantastic-fried-shrimp-2/

 

LASAGNA AND BAKED ZITI…

https://livethelive.com/2018/09/23/lasagna-and-its-cousin-baked-ziti/

 

ASIAN NOODLES…GREAT HOT OR COLD

https://livethelive.com/2018/09/13/asian-noodles-with-peanut-sauce-3/

 

OYSTERS…

https://livethelive.com/2018/11/01/oysters-rock-a-fellow-improved/

 

 

 

 

 

I’m fortunate that I can buy my veal from a nearby dairy farm, Sweet & Salty Farm in Little Compton, RI, where the animals are grass-fed and raised humanely. That makes for happier animals and incredibly flavorful meat…and no guilt about using it.

I also buy veal bones from Sweet & Salty Farm, roasting them on a sheet pan in a 400-degree oven for 30 minutes, then placing them in a large pot of water. I take some chopped carrots, onions, and celery, toss them in a little olive oil, and place them on a sheet pan, roasting them in the oven until they’ve caramelized, then add them to the pot with the veal bones. The secret to a great veal bone broth is to boil the bones and veggies for as long a time as possible. Restaurants will do this for days, replacing the water in the pot as needed. At home, I’ll start the broth in the morning and finish it by evening.

The subtle flavor of veal can get lost with heavy seasonings, so I keep it simple. The addition of veal bone broth amplifies the flavor and keeps the meatballs from drying out.

 

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1 lb. ground veal
1 cup toasted breadcrumbs (I use Udi’s bread to make it gluten-free)
2 teaspoons parsley
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
1 egg
extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. pasta, cooked firmer than al dente (I use Garofalo GF pasta to make it gluten-free)
2 cups veal bone broth or beef stock
salt and pepper for seasoning
2 tablespoons half-and-half
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup of frozen organic peas

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Make the meatballs: In a bowl, combine the veal, breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano, basil, salt, pepper, garlic, onion and egg, mixing the ingredients thoroughly. Don’t over-mix.

Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil in an oven-proof pan, and form the meatballs one by one, placing them in the pan. Brown the meatballs on all sides over medium heat. Place the pan in the oven to cook the meatballs for 10 more minutes.

In a saucepan, heat the veal bone broth or beef broth. Once the meatballs have cooked in the oven, transfer them to the pot of broth and cover it with a lid, keeping the heat on low. If the broth doesn’t cover the meatballs, turn them every once in a while to keep them moist on all sides. Cook the meatballs in the broth for about 30 minutes, then transfer them to a large sauté pan.

Turn the saucepan with the veal broth on high and reduce it to about 1/2 cup. Season it with salt and pepper.

In a large pot, cook the pasta to a bit firmer than al dente in well-salted water. Drain it and set it aside.

In the large sauce pan with the meatballs, add the butter and the half-and-half. Add the reduced veal broth, the pasta, and the peas.

Gently mix the ingredients in the pan until the peas have warmed through and the sauce clings to the pasta. Serve immediately.

 

 

 

 

 

As a teenager growing up on Long Island, I worked long hours at a local Italian restaurant called Pizza City East in Plainview. (The original Pizza City was in Ozone Park, Queens.) Though the pay sucked, I made some important friendships that have lasted to this day. I also learned many Italian cooking basics: how to open clams for red and white clam sauce, the secrets of great pizza dough, the art of a perfect espresso, and how to make massive quantities of baked ziti.

The basic ingredients of baked ziti are the same as lasagna, and I make one or the other depending on my mood or what I’ve got in the cupboard. I also like to make my lasagna a little dryer, where baked ziti shines in its incredible gooiness.

My lasagna usually consists of 2 sauces (a meat sauce and a bechamel sauce) and 4 cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, and Parmigiano Reggiano) using pasta that is boiled much firmer than al dente. I like real pasta, not the no-boil sheets, because I think the flavor is better. I’ve tried the no-boils, and I’ve found that they don’t cook evenly. Sometimes you get a nice soft bite and other times it’s completely raw and pasty. There are plenty of great brand choices for lasagna sheets these days, and that includes gluten-free varieties.

lasagna

 

Meat Sauce…
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 lb. grass-fed ground beef or pastured pork, or a combination of both
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil for sautéing

 

Heat a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the onions until translucent. I finely chop the carrots by peeling them all the way down until there’s nothing but a pile of peeled pieces, then chopping them up so small, they almost melt into the sauce. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beef (or pork) and cook the meat until it browns. Add the parsley, oregano, basil, salt and pepper and mix well.

Empty the can of tomatoes into a blender and blend it until smooth. Add this to the pan and mix well.

Cook the meat sauce for about 10 minutes, then remove it from the heat and set it aside.

Hint: I’ve found that no-boil pasta sheets suck up a lot more moisture than already-cooked pasta, so I make my sauce a bit runnier than usual when using the sheets.

 

Bechamel sauce…
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoon all-purpose flour (I use Cup4Cup flour to make it gluten-free)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups 2% milk

 

Bechamel is a basic white sauce. It adds a wonderful creaminess to my lasagna or baked ziti.

Melt the butter in a saucepan under medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until you’ve combined the butter and flour and have a light roux.

Add the milk, and keep whisking, making sure you don’t get any lumps in the sauce. Season with the salt and pepper.

Keep whisking until the sauce thickens. Once it does, remove it from the heat and set it aside.

 

A special 4-cheese all-bechamel sauce lasagna, before cooking.

 

I made 2 different versions this last time. Having tomato allergies and on a gluten-free diet, my wife got a 4-cheese all-bechamel gluten-free lasagna all to herself. It baked up nicely.

4-cheese gluten-free lasagna, after baking.

 

12 oz. lasagna pasta sheets (boiled or no-boil)…or 12 oz. small pasta, like ziti, elbows or penne
4 slices provolone cheese (about 4 oz.)
ricotta cheese (about 4 oz.)
mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced (about 4 oz.)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

If you’re using regular pasta, boil the lasagna sheets in a pot of salty boiling water until very firm…firmer than al dente. Drain the pasta and run cold water over it to stop the cooking process. The pasta will want to stick to itself, so work quickly. Adding a drop of olive oil can help.

Lay a thin layer of the meat sauce at the bottom of the lasagna pan, which will keep the lasagna from sticking. Then start your layers: a layer of pasta, a thin layer of the Béchamel sauce, the 4 slices of Provolone, a layer of pasta, a layer of the meat sauce, small teaspoon-sized dollops of the ricotta, another layer of pasta (press down occasionally to remove air bubbles), another thin layer of Béchamel, the Parmigiano Reggiano, more pasta, more meat sauce, etc….

Make it as thick as you like. I like to cover the final layer of pasta with the meat sauce and then finish the dish with the mozzarella, sprinkling a touch of oregano on top.

Place the lasagna pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly. Shut the oven off, but leave the pan in for another 10 minutes, then serve.

The baked ziti version, using elbow pasta this time, before baking.

 

If you’re making a baked ziti version, your job is a lot easier. Take the cooked, drained pasta and pour it into the pan. Add the meat sauce and some bechamel sauce. Stir in the ricotta, torn up pieces of the provolone, grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and even a few small chunks of mozzarella. Mix it well. Then place more mozzarella on the top, and bake it in the oven for about 30 minutes.

The best mac and cheese ever: the baked ziti version, substituting elbow pasta for lasagna sheets.

 

Of course, when you’re cooking, there’s always someone hanging around to grab a taste of the baked ziti before it goes in the oven…