Friday, February 3, 2012

What's a ziti, and why should I bake it?

January 29, 2012
Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage
Rustic Sourdough Bread
Green Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
Maestri 2009 Chianti
Chocolate Chubbies with Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

One of the wonderful things about food and cooking is the never-ending opportunity to learn and try new things. Most of the recipes that I use for Sunday dinner are new to us. They're either entirely new dishes or new takes on old favorites. For example, more than one person expressed surprise when I mentioned that I had never had baked ziti. I had never even heard of this dish until a few years ago when my sister-in-law, Lori,  mentioned that she would be preparing it because it is "so good".

I presumed that "ziti" was a pasta shape that I had never heard of, not surprising because there are so many different shapes of pasta. Maybe it was like a lasagna noodle since it was used in a baked dish? When I saw the recipe on Dr. Dan's site, I was surprised to see there was no "ziti" in the list of ingredients, just penne. So off to the Internet ... what is a ziti? Lo and behold, it turns out my conjecture was correct, ziti is a pasta shape and it is much like penne. Perhaps the recipe calls for penne because it is easier to find, though Barilla, the brand of penne I used, also makes ziti.

Since sausage and cheese were the main ingredients, I went to Whole Foods to get a higher quality. I searched for Italian sausage and found two kinds of store-made sausage that did not come in a casing: hot and mild (or maybe it was called sweet, I don't remember). Reading the list of ingredients I thought the hot would be better, but I was afraid it would be too spicy. I checked with one of the butchers and was told it wasn't real spicy, just a little bit, so that's what I purchased. I then visited the cheese counter (How many supermarkets have a special counter just for cheese?) and talked to the cheesemonger to get their advice; I don't know much about cheese. We agreed a fresh mozzarella would not work for this application since it would be too soft to cube or grate, and they recommended a whole-milk mozzarella: I purchased two 8 oz. blocks.

The whole dish was easily assembled and baked. It includes 1 pound of dried pasta, 1 pound of cheese, and 1 pound of sausage. It would feed many more than two! I baked it in a 13" x 9" Pyrex baking dish. From start to finish it probably only took about an hour to prepare. It was not only easy to make but was hearty and satisfying, a real nice pasta dish. The two of us hardly made a dent in this large dish of pasta, we'll be eating it as leftovers for some time. Next time I will probably cut the recipe in half. Also, the sausage was a little too hot for our taste so I'd go for sweet Italian sausage next time.

After a disappointing loaf of sourdough bread last week, I reviewed the video instructions on sourdough starter maintenance at Breadtopia. I also found some helpful information at King Arthur. I took my starter out of the refrigerator early Sunday morning. I poured half of it into the sink then added 1 cup of flour and about ¾ cup of water. After 5 hours it was a gorgeous frothy mixture that had expanded considerably. I made  dough using a recipe from King Arthur. It is notable in using both sourdough starter and yeast as leavening agents. I used a stand mixer to combine the dry ingredients with water and to knead the dough. I finished the kneading by hand, because it's fun to do, and left it to rise. I made two free-form loaves and baked them as directed. The resulting bread is nice. The crumb is very uniform with no large holes and it doesn't have much sourdough flavor so I'd say the name is misleading, it is neither rustic nor sourdough. The crust isn't as thick and, well, crusty, as the no-knead breads I often bake inside a dutch oven. I don't have a spray bottle to mist the loaves just before baking so I just sprinkled on some water. Spraying may have helped a good crust to form.   King Arthur has an "extra tangy" version of this bread which I'll try next time. One of the two loaves was frozen.

I don't remember where I learned about the recipe for Chocolate Chubbies as I've had it for over a year, but I do know that I should have made these sooner! They are the best new cookie I've had since I don't know when. Even Diane, who usually only likes cookies that are fresh from the oven, enjoys these chocolate delights. One of the ingredients is superfine sugar. When making my shopping list I assumed this was powdered sugar, so that is what I purchased. When reviewing the recipe it didn't seem right to be using powdered sugar, so did a little research and learned  that superfine sugar is not the same thing as powdered sugar. Fortunately, it is easy to make superfine sugar by running regular sugar through a food processor.  The recipe calls for walnuts and pecans and I got both. The price of pecans was shocking, over $5 for a 6 oz. bag! Coincidentally I had heard a report on NPR about the high price for pecans and the problems farmers are having with thieves. I didn't have any unsweetened chocolate so I used Bittersweet. I froze half of the cookies.

So, I found out what a ziti is and enjoyed baked ziti for the first time. I talked to a cheesemonger for the first time ever. I refined my sourdough skills and discovered a new cookie that I'm sure we'll be having again and again, and in the process learned about superfine sugar.

Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage from 101 Cooking for Two
Rustic Sourdough Bread from King Arthur Flour
Chocolate Chubbies from Serious Eats

The Beef Burgundy that was too salty was still too salty when it was served as a leftover, but not nearly so much. We had it over boiled potatoes and it makes a nice meal.

The Meyer Lemon Bars were just covered and left on the counter for a few days, and they keep there with no noticeable harm. If anything their flavor may have mellowed somewhat reducing the tartness of the lemon. They were served at room temperature but without the powdered sugar that was used the first night.

Kitchen tip
Mise en place ... it's not just for TV and professional chefs. Before you start cooking, read the recipe all the way through and prepare your ingredients. Take boxes and bottles out of the cupboards, measure herbs and spices, do any required chopping and slicing and dicing and cutting and shredding. No, I don't always do this, but I should.


  1. I need those cookies. Oh my goodness.

    1. They're definitely worth trying, I bet they'd be a hit at book club.