Posts Tagged ‘mozzarella’

I always thought that spaghetti squash was a sort of “gimmick” vegetable. But once I roasted it, I realized just how delicious it could be. And I hit the “squash lottery” the other day, when my friend, Karen, stopped by with a bunch of beautiful spaghetti squash straight from her and her husband, Bill’s, garden. It was time to cook!

FullSizeRender

Cooking them is easy. I wash them, cut them in half, and remove the seeds and membrane stuff with a spoon. I flip them onto their backs, skin side down, and drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on them. A little sea salt and pepper, and then I flip them back down, skin side up, on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. Into a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30–40 minutes. When they’re soft to the touch, I remove the sheet pan from the oven, flip them back over again, and let them cool to room temperature. Then I simply scrape out the flesh with a fork, and it comes out in strands, like spaghetti.

image

While the squash roasts in the oven, I make the meatballs…

 

1 lb. ground grass-fed beef
1 lb. pastured ground veal (substitute ground beef if you can’t get this)
1 cup breadcrumbs (I use gluten-free)
2 eggs, cracked and scrambled
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon granulated garlic
1 tablespoon granulated onion
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons salt

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and form into meatballs. Place them in a hot pan with 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Cook until the meatballs are browned on all sides.

 

 

 

And you need homemade sauce…

2 cans (28 oz.) of tomatoes, pureed
olive oil
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

In a large pot, saute the onions in a little olive oil until translucent. Add the pureed tomatoes and cook at medium heat until the foam disappears.

Add all the herbs and spices and mix well. Continue cooking on medium heat, lowering to a simmer if the sauce seems to be boiling too hard.

Add the meatballs to the sauce when the meatballs have been browned on all sides. Pour the entire contents of the meatball pan, including the olive oil and fat, into the tomato sauce pot.

Make sure all the meatballs are covered with the sauce. Place a lid on the pot, and simmer for at least an hour, until the meatballs are cooked all the way through.

image

 

Scrape the spaghetti squash with a spoon and place a mound of it in the center of the serving dish. Top it with the meatballs and sauce. Grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top, or do what I did this time, and cut a slab of mozzarella di bufala into small cubes and toss on top. A little sprinkle of oregano and olive oil for good measure on top.

 

My interest in food and cooking goes back to my first restaurant job as a teenager, at an Italian restaurant called Pizza City East in my hometown of Plainview, NY.  (There was also an original Pizza City on Crossbay Blvd. in Ozone Park, Queens.) It was there that I learned how to open clams by the bushel, how to make the perfect cappucino, and how to use basic restaurant kitchen equipment like the convection oven and the fryer. I peeled thousands of shrimp for scampi, washed barrels of lettuce for salads, and grated hundreds of pounds of mozzarella for pizza.

I also made baked ziti by the barrelful. It was much easier to make in large quantities than lasagna, and it basically contained all the same ingredients. No worries about making perfect layers. No pasta sheets sticking together. Just put all the ingredients in an oven-proof baking pan, mix them around and throw them in the oven. And it tasted great.

Now I make baked ziti, or shells, or elbows–whatever pasta I have on hand–at home, using gluten-free ingredients.

To make the perfect baked ziti, it's important to have a good helper.

To make the perfect baked ziti, it’s important to have a good helper.

I substitute whole milk for the usual bechamel sauce used in many lasagna recipes. Since this dish is gluten-free, I can’t use the flour required to thicken bechamel sauce, and gluten-free flour doesn’t work here.

1 lb. regular or gluten-free pasta
2 lbs. (32 oz.) ricotta cheese
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
12 oz. mozzarella cheese, grated
1 cup whole milk
1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon parsley

image

 

In a bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, half of the mozzarella, and the milk.

Pour  the contents of the tomato can in a blender and blend until smooth. Add this to the bowl and combine.

Add the granulated garlic, salt, oregano, basil, and parsley to the bowl and combine again.

Cook the pasta until just before al dente. You want it to be chewy because it will still bake in the oven. Drain the pasta and place it in an ovenproof baking dish.

Add the contents of the cheese and milk blend bowl to the pasta and stir thoroughly to combine. It’s going to be mushy.

Pre-heat the oven to 350°.

Top the baking dish with the rest of the mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle a little oregano on top. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until the cheese on top has melted and it’s bubbling hot.

Let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

 

Baked elbows, this time with meatballs.

Baked elbows. This time, I added meatballs.

I always thought that spaghetti squash was a sort of “gimmick” vegetable. Who really ate this thing? I mean, if I wanted squash, I’d just buy a zucchini, chop it up and cook it. Why do I need a food that resembles another food I like?

Well, the answer to that question came to me when I could no longer eat the other food: pasta, because I was on a low-carb, no-carb diet. I was making meatballs and I was craving pasta. So I grabbed a couple of spaghetti squash at the store.

Cooking them certainly was easy. I washed them, cut them in half, and removed the seeds and membrane stuff with a spoon. I flipped them onto their backs, skin side down, and drizzled some extra virgin olive oil on them. A little sea salt and pepper, and then I flipped them back down, skin side up, on a sheet pan lined with non-stick aluminum foil. Into a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30–40 minutes. When they were soft to the touch, I removed the sheet pan from the oven, flipped them back over again, and let them cool to room temperature. Then I simply spooned out the flesh, and it came out in strands, like spaghetti.

image

While the squash roasted in the oven, I made the meatballs. My wife is on a gluten-free diet, so I used gluten-free bread crumbs. The carb count of GF bread crumbs is about the same as regular bread crumbs, around 75 carbs per cup. I used 1 cup to make 25 meatballs, so they had about 3 carbs a piece. Not super low carb, but not awful.

Here’s how it went down…

image

For the balls…

1 lb. pastured ground veal
1 lb. ground grass-fed beef
1 cup GF breadcrumbs
2 eggs, cracked and scrambled

2 tablespoons dried parsley

2 tablespoons dried oregano

1 tablespoon dried basil

1 tablespoon granulated garlic

1 tablespoon granulated onion

1 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons salt

 

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl and form into meatballs. Place them in a hot pan with 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Cook until the meatballs are browned on all sides.

 

For the sauce…

2 cans (28 oz.) of tomatoes, pureed

olive oil

1/2 onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon dried parsley

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon granulated garlic

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/2 teaspoon anise seeds

 

In a large pot, saute the onions in a little olive oil until translucent. Add the pureed tomatoes and cook at medium heat until the foam disappears.

Add all the herbs and spices and mix well. Continue cooking on medium heat, lowering to a simmer if the sauce seems to be boiling too hard.

Add the meatballs to the sauce when the meatballs have been browned on all sides. Pour the entire contents of the meatball pan, including the olive oil and fat, into the tomato sauce pot.

Make sure all the meatballs are covered with the sauce. Place a lid on the pot, and simmer for at least an hour, until the meatballs are cooked all the way through.

image

To serve:

Scrape the spaghetti squash with a spoon and place a mound of it in the center of the serving dish. Top it with the meatballs and sauce. Grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top, or do what I did this time, and cut a slab of mozzarella di bufala into small cubes and toss on top. A little sprinkle of oregano and olive oil for good measure on top.