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.
Our landlords recently told us that they’re selling our apartment and so, despite how much we like it here, we’re going to have to pack up and move on July 1st. I’m already spending way too much time on Westsiderentals.com (the big rental site out here) and a site called Padmapper (which puts Craigslist listings on a map) trying to find our next place. One thing I’ll miss about our current place, besides its proximity to a grocery store (Gelson’s) and a gourmet market (The Oaks) is Counterpoint, the used book store on our street. I’ve found many cookbook gems there, like The Mandy Patinkin Family Cookbook (which I didn’t buy) and The Cooking of Southwest France (which I did).
When you’re an old fogey food blogger like me, dinner comes in one of two categories: 1. something you’ve already blogged about and 2. something you’ve never blogged about.
The sad truth is that more often than not, lately, I feel like cooking things that I’ve already blogged about because I love making them. It’s harder and harder to come up with something that I really feel like making that’s new enough for the blog. How to overcome that? The best way is to go to the farmer’s market to find a new ingredient or to wander into a great meat and seafood store, like McCall’s in Los Feliz, to get inspired. I did the latter yesterday when I found beautiful looking clams for $8 a pound. One dish popped into my head that I’d never blogged before: Linguine with Clams. I bought a pound of clams, a box of linguine and got ready to rock n’ roll.
In good stories, a character changes. So, for example, if you’re watching a movie about a guy who’s afraid of heights but his girlfriend is being held hostage at the top of Mount Everest, we expect him to get over his fear in order to save her. If he decides to just leave her there and become a knitting teacher, it probably wouldn’t be a very good movie. (Though, on second thought, maybe it would?)
Thinking of me as your main character, then, consider my post last week about cottage cheese. I find the stuff repulsive. 157 of you disagreed with me in the comments. So yesterday I went to Gelson’s and saw Low-Fat Knudsen’s Cottage Cheese, the kind many of you eat, and decided to challenge myself to make dinner with it. If this were a good story, I’d learn to love it at the end.
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.