Looking north from Fire Island

Looking north from Fire Island
Continuing the cooking articles I write every summer

Monday, March 2, 2009

Comforting Baked Pastas


Something magic happens when pasta is baked with its sauce. Baked Ziti comes to mind, as do baked raviolis, or chicken and spaghetti. Pasta is a thirsty thing. Even once it’s cooked, it keeps absorbing the sauce and its flavors. That’s the wonderful thing. That’s why we always finish the final cooking of pasta in its sauce, the better to absorb the flavor into the pasta. Every time I make lasagna -- a baked pasta -- the day it’s cooked the juices are runny, it’s delicious, and then the day after, when the flavors have gotten more developed, the pasta tends to dry out and needs a fresh dousing of red sauce. Just keep some sauce aside and do it, you’ll thank me.

Most of my baked pasta dishes are based on Neapolitan cooking, and use basic red sauce as a main ingredient. Use your favorite Marinara, buy a good one, or try mine: You’ll save money.

Vegetarians you know what to do, it’s still a great sauce. a sweet Italian pork sausage, peeled, four skinned chicken thighs, a medium sized onion, finely chopped, half a whole head of garlic, (yes!), peeled and chopped, huge pinch oregano, crushed, four bay leaves, 4tb olive oil, water 1/4 can, 2 cans of crushed tomatoes, or whole and in puree, chopped coarsely. You know I love texture. salt - big pinch, kosher, black pepper, ground, generous, red pepper flakes, 1/3 tsp., sugar 1 Tsp. Peel the sausage, chop coarsely, skin the chicken, place in a pan with oil and fry - add the red pepper flakes, chopped, then the garlic, onions, fried ‘till translucent, chopped tomatoes, rinse the can with water, add the water to the pot, and everything else. Bring to the boil, lower the flame to a simmer, cook till chicken thighs are done. Remove thighs, and bay leaves. NOTES: always make a large batch as it freezes so well, lots of olive oil improves the sauce texture and flavor. Water added at the start will evaporate and allow the flavors to emerge. Use a full cup when you begin cooking, don’t worry about having too thin a sauce. It cooks down

BAKED LASAGNE WITH EGGPLANT: This simple dish is merely an assembly process. Get or make 3 cups at least of red sauce, meat or meatless your choice. Peel and slice an eggplant lengthwise into 1/3 inch slices. Drizzle with S&P, oil and water, and bake ‘till the vegetable softens. You will turn the slices once. Boil a large amount of water, and cook the noodles to al dente, and drain them, coating them with oil to keep them from sticking together. Make your cheese mixture: Ricotta cheese, grated parmesan, pepper, fresh chopped parsley, nutmeg, one egg. Slice up half a pound of mozzarella cheese. Into an oiled baking pan, a layer of sauce on the bottom, then a layer of noodles, then sauce, eggplants, noodles, sauce, cheese mixture, another layer of noodles, sauce, cheese slices, more sauce, grated cheese, and drizzle generously with olive oil. Bake for an hour at 350f or ‘till the pasta bubbles at the center. I generally cover the noodles and bake for 2/3 of the time, then remove the cover for ten or so minutes to brown the top.

RIGATONI BAKED WITH SAUSAGES AND MOZZARELLA CHEESE (Twice as fast as lasagna, but with the same basics and just as good a result.) 1. Boil a pound of DeCecco brand Rigatoni in salted water and drain. 2. While still hot, souse the pasta with 2 to 3 cups hot marinara sauce, and add the sliced sausages. 3. Spoon in the cheese mixture; distribute it but leave it in whole pools, not mixed in. 4. Top with mozzarella cheese slices, drizzle liberally with olive oil. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Bake ‘till the top of the cheese starts to turn golden. Serve with some more marinara sauce on top.
Sauce: your favorite red sauce. 3 cups. Slit sweet Italian sausages lengthwise, and cook them in the sauce. Slice the cooked sausages and return to the sauce, add sausages and sauce to the warm pasta, Cheese Mixture: Mix a container ricotta cheese with nutmeg, fresh black pepper, fresh chopped parsley, grated parmesan cheese.

BAKED CHICKEN AND SPAGHETTI: This is one of my best and easiest host dishes, and my friends never stop asking me for it. Baking spaghetti gives it a delicious chewy quality, and the pasta totally absorbs the sauce. Skin and trim the thighs and drumsticks from two chickens, and place them in your large skillet and fry them in some oil till ¾ done. Preheat your oven to 350f. Add 3 cups favorite red sauce, and simmer. Boil a pound of spaghetti al dente, add the pasta to the skillet and toss all ingredients well. Bake partially covered for 20 minutes. Sometimes I add a few cut up sweet Italian sausages to the chicken, and enhance the meal. A good green salad is often the best company to a baked pasta dish.

MIDDLE EASTERN RAVIOLIS AND NOODLES (KELSONNES): My Syrian grandmother used to make these, and she never used a cup or spoon measurement. There were only “handfuls” and “pinches”. I offer these approximations, where a cup equals two handfuls, but Grandma’s hands were the magic ingredient. Dough: 5 cups flour, 2 eggs, big pinch salt, 2 cups cold water (approx) Filling: mixture should be thick. 2 lb Muenster cheese, grated finely. 1-2 eggs, pinch salt, ½ tsp baking powder. Method: Combine first three ingredients and add the water slowly until you get a soft dough. Combine all ingredients for the filling, set aside. Roll out half the dough on a floured surface till you get it ¼ inch thick. Drop heaping teaspoons full of the cheese mixture onto the dough in rows around 3” apart. Cover the mounds with the other half of dough, rolled out. Use a water glass, press out raviolis, and seal the edges. Set aside the unused dough, which you will slice into noodles. Boil 6 qts water and two tsp salt, Place Kelsonnes into the boiling water ‘till almost tender, around 20 min. Drain, place into two buttered baking dishes, and top with two sticks of melted butter. Cover, and bake at 300f for 30 min. For extra crispness, uncover and bake an additional ten minutes. In the summer time sometimes these were served with sour cream or yogurt. The Kelsonnes may be frozen prior to boiling. Freeze them on parchment, then store in baggies.

You can always write to me at
michael.safdiah@gmail.com , and I will answer all cooking questions.