Start year with family, good Italian baked pasta
|||Thai, the Chai way|
By JeanMarie Browson
By JeanMarie Browson
After the parties, start the New Year off with simple, Italian fare the whole family can enjoy. No, we're not talking pizza — but rather pizza-flavored pasta: baked pasta alla pizzaiola.
For a festive supper, let your family or guests customize their own pasta by setting out a variety of prepared meats and vegetables to add just as you would when ordering your favorite pizza. We like to bake individual dishes so everyone can make their favorite combinations. If you don't have small baking dishes, simply make one or two larger dishes. We've even been known to make a 13-by-9-inch pan half sausage and pepperoni and half spinach and mushroom.
The recipe looks long, but it's really quite simple: Combine a quickly cooked tomato sauce, cooked pasta, cheeses and a selection of goodies to flavor the dish. Our favorite combinations mimic our pizza loves: sausage and pepperoni, shrimp and olives, chicken with spinach and mushrooms, tofu and grilled veggies.
As with pizza, the better the quality of ingredients, the better the finished dish. If you've never added nuggets of fresh mozzarella to your baked pastas (or your pizzas), you'll be mighty pleased. The fresh cheese melts into luscious pockets of goodness reminiscent of the best pizza margheritas.
Be sure to seek out Italian tomatoes such as San Marzanos, either in cans or aseptic boxes, at specialty and Italian markets as well as some supermarkets. These are the preferred tomatoes of the best pizzaiole in Italy and in this country as well. The deeply flavored tomatoes do not contain citric acid (which adds unnecessary tang to the sauce) or calcium chloride (which keeps the tomatoes firm) like so many domestic brands do. The imports taste cleaner, less acidic and more like fresh tomatoes.
The recipe takes about 45 minutes of prep time, 30 minutes cooking time and makes enough for a large family or a casual company supper. Or eat half and freeze the rest for another day.
To accompany the pasta, toss bagged salad (preferably one with pieces of red cabbage or radicchio for crunch and color) with a simple vinaigrette dressing.
Our version of garlic bread is super simple: Cut 1 oval loaf of Italian bread lengthwise in half. Put the two halves onto a baking sheet. Brush both sides with a couple of tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with seasoned garlic salt (we like Lawry's), sweet paprika and shredded Parmesan. Bake at 400 degrees until crusty, about 5 minutes. Cut crosswise into serving portions.
For dessert, lemon ice and lemon drop cookies from the local Italian bakery.
Now we're fortified for 2009 — whatever it may bring.
Look for canned or boxed Italian tomatoes in the imported section of large supermarkets. Look for orecchiette (little ear-shaped dried pasta) in some well-stocked supermarkets.
BAKED PASTA ALLA PIZZAIOLA
For the sauce and pasta:
Add-ins (choose two or more):
For the sauce, heat the oil in a large saucepan, Add the onion; cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic; cook 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, basil, salt, oregano and peppers. Simmer 10 minutes; cool. (Sauce can be made several days in advance, refrigerate covered.)
Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large pan of boiling, salted water according to package directions until al dente, 8-10 minutes. Drain; rinse under cool water. Shake off excess water. (Pasta can be cooked in advance; toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and refrigerate in a covered container up to several days.)
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil one 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish or 6 to 8 smaller (2-cup capacity) individual baking dishes. Toss pasta with sauce in a large bowl. Put pasta into prepared baking dish(es); top with desired add-ins. Sprinkle with fresh mozzarella; mix gently. Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella and Parmesan.
Bake until heated through and cheeses are nicely melted, 15 minutes for individual baking dishes or 20-25 minutes for one large dish. Cool a few minutes. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.
Makes 8 servings.