Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Baked Ziti with Puttanesca Sauce

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If you ask VB what is his favorite dinner, he'll likely say baked pasta. It's such a simple and flavorful dish -- just tomato sauce, pasta and cheese baked to hearty, crunchy goodness. This recipe has gone through various experiments and permutations, but using puttanesca sauce in lieu of tomato sauce is definitely my favorite. You'll need:
  • 1 pound of ziti or penne
  • 1 26-ounce can of diced tomatoes (preferably San Mazano)
  • 4 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 2 shallots, diced small
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed
  • 1 jar of olives (black and/or Kalamata), chopped small
  • 3 tablespoons of capers, drained
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 cup of part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 1 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
  • basil chiffonade as garnish
  • salt and pepper to taste
One note about San Mazano tomatoes -- they are expensive. A 26-ounce jar of San Mazano tomatoes from Whole Foods will set you back about $3.50 or so, compared with $1.70 for a 26-ounce jar of plum tomatoes from Trader Joe's. Yes, San Mazano tomatoes are richer and sweeter, but there's certainly no reason to spend that kind of money on canned tomatoes. I put the San Marzano tomatoes in this recipe because they do produce a superior product. However, if you don't want to spend the cash, use a 26-ounce can of regular diced tomatoes and add a teaspoon each of sugar and tomato paste.

To make the tomato sauce, start by sweating shallots in olive oil in a medium pot over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, or until the shallots are softened. Add garlic and thyme. Stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, canned tomato, and olives. Let the sauce simmer for about 10 minutes. Add capers and stir. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes. Check and adjust seasoning. Remove from heat and let cool.

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring a large pot of seasoned water to boil. Add pasta. Stir. Cook until the pasta is just short of al dente, about 7 to 8 minutes depending on your pasta. Drain. Toss together with sauce and mozzarella cheese in a large oven-proof pan. Spread the pasta evenly in the pan. Sprinkle with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Bake in 350 degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes. Remove and serve with basil chiffonade on top.

Puttanesca sauce is great here because of its savory taste and meaty texture. It brings more substance and flavor to a simple baked pasta.

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