What you are looking at, in the above picture, is the best thing I can imagine eating right now. Mario Batali once said on one of his shows that the best time to eat corn and tomatoes isn’t August, it’s September. My trips, recently, to the farmer’s market confirm this: the tomatoes couldn’t look plumper or more colorful. And so it was, last week, that I bought a few red ones, a few yellow heirlooms, some zucchini and a bunch of herbs–basil and dill–and came home to make a pasta dinner that had my eyes rolling back in my head, it was so terrific: an edible “last hurrah” for summer.
We all need a good baked ziti recipe, don’t we? Well here it is. I was looking for something like this to serve up for Episode #3 of The Clean Plate Club. Pasta being my favorite food, I wanted to serve pasta without having to be in the kitchen the whole time, boiling, straining, stirring, etc. Baked ziti is the perfect solution. You make your pasta earlier in the day, cook it al dente, toss it with a flavorful sauce (more on that in a sec) then layer it in a baking dish with lots and lots of cheese. Boom: you’re done. All you have to do is pop it in the oven.
We did a very smart thing this weekend: we invited friends over for dinner on Sunday night which forced us to finish unpacking and get our new place in order. Worked like a charm. By early Sunday evening, all of our boxes were unpacked, our furniture was properly placed and all of the lights were plugged in. We have our master list of things to get (extra towel hook for the bathroom, drain stopper for the sink) but all in all, we’re pretty remarkably set up for having only moved in a week ago. Only one question remained: what to make for dinner?
Growing up, when mom and dad would get dressed up on a Friday night, they’d leave us behind with a babysitter, a box of fusilli and a jar of Prego. I couldn’t have been happier because, as most of you know by now, pasta is my favorite food (next to dessert). Chicken or the egg-wise, it is possible that it is my favorite food because I grew up eating it; if mom had left us behind with a can of Spam and a pair of pliers, maybe I’d be gorging on canned meat to pep myself up. As it stands, though, when I’m down in the dumps, nothing puts a smile on my face like a big bowl of fusilli with a meaty tomato sauce. Here’s one I whipped up this weekend using some smoky bacon I had leftover.
If you know your pasta, you know that the image and the title here don’t match; that’s because, for some reason, they weren’t selling orecchiette the day I went to Gelson’s. I almost threw in the towel but then I thought, “Why don’t I find another pasta shape that’s kind of like orecchiette?” Which is how I wound up with the shells you see in the above photo. And the shells worked really nicely in this pretty phenomenal, though decidedly unhealthy, pasta dinner from Nancy Silverton’s Mozza Cookbook.
Nowadays, when I make a new recipe, there has to be something about it that really draws my interest. If it’s just a roast chicken with butter rubbed on it and some herbs stuffed under the skin? Eh, been there done that. But if it’s something really novel, but not overly novel, color me intrigued. Which is precisely the reaction I had when I saw Mark Ladner’s recipe for Calamarta Alla Boscaiolo in the new issue of Lucky Peach.
You know that thing where you buy two big bunches of broccoli for dinner one night and then you only end up using one bunch so the other bunch sits in your refrigerator in a plastic bag for a week? And then, one week later, you look at it and kind of feel sorry for it and don’t want to throw it away but at the same time it’s kind of limper than it was one week earlier: less Jessica Rabbit, more Jessica Tandy? Here’s something you can do.
Cooking without a recipe. How do you do it?
You start with ingredients. My favorite way to do that is to open my refrigerator to see what’s there: on Friday night (when Craig was working late and his parents were flying in from Seattle) I saw carrots, I saw celery, I saw onions. I decided to cut them all up into big chunky pieces.