It’s been a while since I last shared a complete dinner menu. It’s been a while since we last indulged in one of my favorite cuisines – Italian. This one-skillet Pasta dish has been on the weekly menu for a while now, but you know how plans go – by the wayside. Especially during the holidays – last-minute shopping, errands and other distractions such as pot lucks and decorating and on it goes.
Finally, at long last the timing was right. This Ziti Bake was a new recipe and I was eager to give it a try. I had planned an entire menu around the Ziti Bake.
Ziti is a short shaped pasta popular at Sicilian Weddings. The definition of the word Ziti is controversial. Some say it means “bridegrooms”, others claim the word means “spinsters or bachelors”. The Barilla Pasta company say: Ziti gets its name from the word Zita which means a young woman who is about to become a bride, or “little girl.” Still, an online search and you will find various spins such as young boys, girls, bachelors, brides-grooms, spinsters all coming together in one place. Put it all together and you have the makings for one big Italian Wedding. Or in this case, one delicious pasta dish fitting any occasion.
On a side note; years ago we had some friends that were New York-Italian transplants. When you had dinner at their house, it did not matter what type of pasta they were serving – be in a big bowl of Spaghetti or a platter of Ravioli, the question was always the same. “Did you get enough macaroni? Here, have some more macaroni.” It certainly simplified things when all pastas are macaroni, doesn’t it?
Have you noticed how many recipes abound that call for this sausage or that, only to say casings removed? Maybe it’s me – maybe it’s the whole way American meat cases are stocked; but you can usually find the same type of sausage packaged two ways – bulk and in casings. Whenever I’m cooking something that requires the sausage to be coin-cut or grilled, naturally I go for the variety sold in casings. When the first step in the instructions calls for the casing to be removed and the meat mixture inside to be fried, like you would any ground meat, why not buy in bulk form? If I can skip a step and have the end results the same, you can bet your bottom dollar; I’ll skip a step.
Let’s just take a moment to compare the two types of Italian sausage. I ask you, do you see a difference in the meat? Why buy something that requires a little more effort for the same result? It’s just packaging – the flavor, the spices, the quality are identical.
Cucumber, Tomato and Shallot Salad
5 medium tomatoes, cut into slices
1 large cucumber, sliced
2 Shallots, sliced thin
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 Olive Oil
2 Garlic Cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Salt
1 teaspoon Fresh Cracked Pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon Mustard
Slice tomatoes and cucumbers. Arrange on a rimmed serving platter, alternating tomatoes and cucumbers.
Peel and thinly slice shallots. Break shallots into tiny rings and sprinkle over cucumbers and tomatoes.
In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper until well incorporated. Add mustard and whisk again until blended. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Pour dressing over salad, cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
One-Skillet Ziti Bake
1 lb Mild Italian sausage, bulk
1 (14.5-oz) can fire roasted diced tomatoes with garlic
1 (8-oz) can tomato sauce
½ (6-oz) can tomato paste
1 Tbsp dried Italian seasoning
16 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
1 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese, divided
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 lb dried Ziti pasta
3 cups water
1/4 Cup Goat’s Milk White Cheddar Cheese, Grated
1/2 Cup Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
In a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat, brown sausage, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, sauce, paste, Italian seasoning, dried pasta, and water. Stir to combine, cover and bring to a boil. Boil until pasta is al dente, about 15 minutes, stirring about mid-way through cooking time to prevent scorching.
Meanwhile; combine ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper in a bowl. Stir until well incorporated and smooth. When pasta is cooked and most of the water is gone, stir ricotta mixture into the pasta. Cover and remove from heat.
Preheat oven to broil.
In a small bowl, blend remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, Monterey Jack and White Cheddar cheese.. Top skillet with shredded cheese mixture and place in oven. Broil until cheese is bubbly and nicely melted over Ziti. Watch carefully as cheese will crisp and begin to burn quickly.
Warm French Bread with Garlic Butter
1 Loaf French Bread
4 Tablespoons Butter, melted
2 Garlic Cloves, pressed
2 Teaspoons Italian Breadcrumbs
In a micro-wave safe bowl, warm butter in 10-second increments until melted. Press garlic into butter. Add breadcrumbs and whip to blend.
Preheat oven to 400-degrees. While the oven warms, slice bread length-wise until almost cut through, leaving a little “hinge” to keep the halves connected. Close bread, turn so that sliced side is up, hinged side down. Cut into nice, thick slices without cutting all the way through. This will keep loaf together so that bread is “broken” apart when served.
Place on a baking sheet, open and brush each slice generously with melted butter. Place in the oven open-face and bake until warm, about 10 minutes. The breadcrumbs in the butter with give the tops a nice “crunch”.
Remove from oven, close loaf and wrap in foil to keep warm until ready to serve.
When ready to serve, place loaf in a long bread basket and pass around the table, the breaking bread together as a group to share and enjoy.