Cookery time in Carlymau’s kitchen!
May I just preface this post with an acknowledgement: This is my take on the classic Italian dish, Baked Ziti, and I know that ‘ziti’ refers to the little pasta tubes used in the traditional recipe. My recipe used fusili, but I thought that if I called it ‘Fusili’, the name wouldn’t say much about what the dish is like, other than the pasta used in it. If you follow a mac and cheese recipe, but substitute penne, for example, do you still call it mac and cheese? Or, if you make a lasagne, but substitute the lasagne sheets for thinly sliced aubergine or courgette, is it still a lasagne? If anyone can come up with a better name for it, I’d love to hear it!
Anyway, I saw a recipe online for ziti, which I hadn’t heard of before, and to me it sounded a bit like a jumbled-up lasagne, but with different pasta. I do love a good lasagne, so I thought I would try it out! However, what’s the fun of cooking without a little experimentation?
The principles of baked ziti are simple – a layer of meaty ragu, followed by a layer of pasta, then a layer of cheesy creaminess, and repeat, before smothering with cheese and throwing in the oven.
8 beef meatballs
300 g fusili
1 carton (350g) passata
1 tin (400g) chopped tomatoes
1 tub (125g) creme fraiche
50g parmesan, plus another 10g for decoration
1 white onion
2 cloves garlic
1 red chilli
Splash of white wine
1 yellow pepper
8 small mushrooms
italian herbs, rosemary, salt and pepper
Serves 4 at least
1) For the ragu, I sizzled a finely-chopped onion in a pan with a little bit of salted butter, before adding 2 cloves of garlic, crushed, and 1 finely chopped, deseeded chilli.I browned the onion, and then deglazed the pan with a generous glug of white wine. I then added a carton of passata and one tin of chopped tomatoes, with a shake of italian mixed herbs, a shake of rosemary and some black pepper. I then lowered the heat and let the sauce bubble away for half an hour.
2) As mentioned above, usually a ziti has meat in the sauce, I suppose rather like when making Spaghetti Bolognese. However, I had some meatballs in (shop bought, I’m afraid) which I thought would give a twist to the dish. I quartered the meatballs so that I was left with 32 small chunks, and then rolled them in my palms until they had become mini meatballs. I then cooked them in a frying pan with a splash of olive oil for around 15 mins, until they were cooked through. I then set them to one side for building the dish later on.
3) A traditional baked ziti might use ricotta for the cheesy layer. However, I only had a tub of creme fraiche in at the time, so I mixed it with grated parmesan and some seasoning. Again, I set it to one side for building the dish later. I also chopped up the fresh mozzarella and set to one side.
4) I boiled the fusili in a pan with salted water. The cooking instructions recommended 12 minutes. However, I only cooked the pasta for 9 minutes, as it would continue to cook once added to the finished dish.
5) Once the sauce had been simmering for half an hour, I roughly chopped one yellow pepper and quartered a handful of mushrooms. I lightly toasted them in the pan I had used for the meatballs for around 5 minutes, and then added them to the sauce, cooking for another 10 minutes and then taking off the heat.
8)And onto the building! I began with a layer of tomato sauce. This was followed by a sprinkling meatballs, and then a layer of the cooked pasta. I then spread a layer of parmesan mix, and sprinkled mozzarella on top. I repeated this sequence, ending with pasta, tomato sauce and the remaining mozzarella. I also grated the remainder of the parmesan on top, which will turn deliciously golden brown in the oven.
I think it goes without saying that the quantity I made would easily feed me for a week! Therefore, as well as my portion for dinner, I layered up a number of foil trays, to freeze for later. I popped my dinner portion into the oven, and then started on the mountain of washing up I had produced.
I left the other portions to cool before freezing, but I had a minor mishap when transferring the final portion from one worktop to another in my little kitchen. As I lifted it, the foil twisted and around half of the contents fell back into the saucepan! I managed to reassemble it, although it wasn’t aesthetically impressive. If ziti is a jumbled-up lasagne, then this is a jumbled-up ziti!
By the time I had finished cleaning up, it was time for my dish to come out of the oven. The meatballs were juicy, the mozzarella left long, gooey strings of cheese through every mouthful, and the yellow pepper and mushrooms gave additional texture. One word: delish!