A Date for Baked Ziti

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Every so often, my menu is determined not by choice but by one or more expiration dates. (Alas, I remember when the dates that influenced my cooking were of a more romantic variety.) But getting back to the present: Looking in the fridge, I found some mozzarella leftover from pizza making last weekend and some ricotta that I had purchased for eggplant involuting about a week ago. Both were soon approaching their best used by date and there was about 8 ounces of each—too much to throw out without feeling guilty.

Growing up Italian, the two typical ways of putting leftovers to work were frittatas or pasta. Last night, I opted for the latter and decided to make some baked ziti.

I preheated the oven to 350°F .

Next, I made a 20-minute marinara sauce with a small clove of garlic, olive oil, crushed tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper. I minced the garlic and added it to the pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and some salt and pepper. I sautéed the garlic for a few minutes, until it was aromatic but had not taken on any color. Next, I added about a teaspoon of chopped basil and sautéed that with the garlic for about 30 seconds and then added a 16 ounce can of chopped tomatoes. I brought this to a simmer over medium heat and let the sauce simmer uncovered over low for about 15 minutes.

As the sauce was cooking, I added an egg yolk to the ricotta, together with some Pecorino-Romano (1/4 cup), chopped fresh basil (1 tablespoon) and a little salt and pepper. I beat this mixture with a spoon until it was creamy.

Meanwhile, I cooked some left over whole-wheat penne, about 8 ounces, that had also been around a tad too long, to about a minute before the al-dente stage.

When the pasta was done, I transferred it to the ricotta mixture and stirred it until well coated.

I then placed a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce on the bottom of a small baking dish. I followed this with a layer of half of the pasta and ricotta mixture. Over this layer, I spread about half of the sauce and about 3 ounces of mozzarella which I pulled into chunks from the ball. Over the top of this layer, I grated some pecorino. I repeated this process to form a second layer ending with the mozzarella, grated cheese, and a light drizzle of olive oil.

I placed this in a 350°F oven and baked for 30 minutes. After removing it from the over, I let it rest tented with foil for 10 minutes before serving.

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Keeping with the left-over theme, our wine was a half bottle of Chianti.

Would enjoy hearing how my readers use up their about-to-expire ingredients.

Veal Stew Revisited

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Recently, my friend Arthur Schwartz, an expert on southern Italian cooking, told me about an extremely simple tomato sauce made from just four ingredients: olive oil, garlic, concentrated tomato paste, and milk.

In a sauté pan, sauté a peeled and smashed garlic clove in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Remove the garlic just before it takes on any color. (Your nose should let you when.) Next, add two full tablespoons of imported Italian tomato paste. (The one that comes in a tube.) Stir for about two minutes or until the paste has dissolved into the oil. Finally, add a scant cup of milk, season with salt and pepper, and cook uncovered until the sauce has slightly thickened. That’s it. I knew I would eventually make this sauce.

Well last night, I remembered some veal stew with mushrooms that had been sitting in the fridge for a few days. (See my June 6th posting.) There wasn’t enough meat for two servings, so I thought I could stretch and even refashion the stew as a sauce for some fresh pappardelle.

The stew, however, even when we had it the first night, didn’t have a lot of sauce. And after several days in the fridge, there was even less. That’s when I thought of my friend’s tomato and milk sauce.

After preparing the sauce as described above, except for enriching it with just a touch of cream, I added the stew to the sauté pan and let it reheat partially covered for about 15 minutes. I then added about a half cup of frozen peas and cooked the sauce until the peas were warmed through.

While the stew, now a sauce, was still on the heat, with a spider strainer I transferred the cooked-a-minute-before-al-dente pappardelle to the pan, tossing the pasta to coat with the sauce. After less than a minute, I removed the pan from the heat. Over the pasta, I grated some Parmigiano-Reggiano, sprinkled some torn basil leaves, and gave it all a final toss.

Served accompanied by a Rosso Piceno from Italy’s Marche region, our revisited stew made a perfect Sunday night pasta.

In a comment to this post, please feel free to share any of your recipes for refashioning leftovers.

Monday Night Leftovers

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Didn’t have a chance to grocery shop on Monday, so I looked through the fridge for ideas.

I chose our spicy grilled chicken from Sunday night. I thought it would be perfect served at room temperature accompanied by some traditional Mostarda di Cremona, a fruit preserve made with mustard essential oils, for some sweet piquant flavors.

When serving leftovers, I like to cook something fresh as a side. I had a bunch of pencil-thin asparagus that needed to be used up. So I roasted these in the oven at 400°F for about 15 minutes, seasoned with salt and nutmeg, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkled with plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano. I served them topped with eggs fried in olive oil and a tad of butter. When you cut into the runny yolk, it mixes with the melted cheese, making a perfect sauce for the asparagus.

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For wine, I chose a bottle that we found recently at our local merchant. It was a light 2012 Pinot Noir from Domaine de l’Ocre Rouge in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. A Vin de France (the new appellation for Vin de Table), with only 12% alcohol, it’s fresh, balanced, and packed with lively fruit and spice flavors. Ever so slightly chilled, it was the perfect accompaniment to our chicken.

Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc