How many of you live outside of the Eastern seabord? Ok, so of you, how many have heard of something called mostaccioli? Am I wrong when I say that it’s the poor younger brother of baked ziti? Now, don’t get me wrong, I love a good baked pasta. My issue here is that the mostaccioli I speak of is a kind of bland, basic, tasteless staple at Michigan weddings, and in hot bars. Truly, it’s not worth all your effort to turn out something so bland and kinda boring.
So, Michiganders, and Midwesterners, please see below for a few easy, and very tasty tips to turn your mostaccioli into a mouth watering and delicious baked pasta dish. I am listing them as DO’S and DON’TS.
- DON’T refrain from salting your pasta water. The Italian tradition says your pasta water should taste as salty as the sea. Listen to them, if anyone knows of what they speak, as far as food, it’s the Italians!
- DO add luscious cheese and some good ricotta to your casserole. Now, I am making an assumption here that most people know how to make baked ziti, or mostaccioli? If not, I’ll give you a run down at the end of this list.
- DON’T over boil your pasta before you put it in the dish. (Self explanatory.)
- DO add vegetables, and all kinds of meat or proteins to your dish. As a matter of fact, I use the very best jarred sauce I can find, or you can make your own. (You hear me? No sweet, sugary jarred Prego here, please!)
- DO be liberal with seasoning, with the exception of salt. Remember, you have made your pasta cooking water “like the sea” so the salt will be an inherent part of your dish. I usually add ricotta cheese, and salt that rather liberally too, so there is that salt to remember. Too much salt isn’t what you’re going for here, it’s mellow, cheesy and luscious. (Maybe I should just call this Luscious Bake.)
- DO use a large enough pan. I was lucky enough to be gifted a set of new bakeware this Christmas (Thanks, Pop!) and it is non-stick and comes with silicone inserts, so no need for the pot holders or oven mitts to get it out of the oven!! My point is, even cooking and enough crunchy brown stuff to go around makes for maximum deliciousness!
- My final DON’T is, DON’T NOT make this! It’s so good, and so easy, and will feed you and your mid-sized family for several days. This, a salad, and perhaps a good glass of wine and some bread? That’s what will keep you warm in these ridiculously cold days!
Sooo, I forgot to mention above, have you heard of ziti? Don’t we all know what that is? It’s a tubular pasta, with ridges, although, I have to say that might be rigatoni, I’ll have to check my pasta shapes book. But, you can use either, you can also use any stuffed pasta, like tortellini (I would refrain from ravioli, simply because it will bust open and make a mess, trust me on this one) I am also imagining how great this would be with elbows, spirals, pretty much anything that will catch the filling and sauce.
Here is the basic recipe. You can add anything you like, but the bake time should remain fairly the same. If you’re super adventurous, you can use fresh pasta. In that case cut back the pasta cooking time, but then you’re probably experienced enough to know when fresh pasta is ready to go.
Bep’s All Purpose Baked Pasta (aka Baked Ziti)
Preheat your oven to 350°. Prep a large baking dish, about 12 inches long by 3 deep. You can rub it with olive oil, but you really don’t have to.
- 1 pound uncooked pasta (ziti, rigatoni, etc) Usually one box/bag
- salt, olive oil
- 1 large jar spaghetti sauce (or 4 cups of your homemade. I really prefer Newman’s Own, or Barilla here, but it’s up to you) (*Not a paid sponsor)
- 1 15 oz tub of ricotta cheese (whole or skim, makes no difference)
- 1 whole egg, per container of ricotta (you can leave out, but it makes a huge flavor difference)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 16 oz shredded mozzarella (I have used provolone too, really good)
- 8 oz Parmesan, shredded or powdery
Any or all of the below:
- 1 pint cooked mushrooms (sliced thin, sauteed in olive oil with garlic until soft)
- 1 jar artichoke hearts, cut into small pieces
- 1 large bunch fresh spinach (or a packet of baby spinach leaves), washed and sliced fine (if using baby leave, just leave them whole)
- Bunch of fresh herbs (basil, oregano, thyme, sage, to taste) washed, dried, chopped
- Meat (1 lb ground meat, chicken cooked, pork sausage diced, you get the idea)
Bring a large pot full of water to the boil. When it comes to the boil, add enough salt so the water is well and truly briney, taste it (probably about a tablespoon of Kosher, 2 tsp of table salt). Add a good glug of olive oil, and let it come back to the boil. Once it’s rolling boiling, add the dried pasta. Cook it to the packet’s instructions, but my rule of thumb is, stir it until they’re all rolling around in the water. Once you make the other preparations, it will be ready to drain and sauce (close to 12 minutes.) Now, I said above, don’t overcook it, and I mean that. You should feel slight resistance when you taste and bit into it, but not crunch, just a nice solid resistance to your teeth. It should above all be cooked through.
While your pasta is cooking, place your ricotta cheese into a medium sized bowl and add the egg, beaten, and salt and pepper. Use a fork to beat this until it’s fully incorporated. Now, you will need to taste it for seasoning. A little tiny bit of raw egg won’t kill you. Adjust the salt and pepper so it tastes good to you. At this point, if you’re using the herbs, add them, and beat again into the ricotta mixture. Reserve a tablespoon or so for later. Set this mixture aside. Prep all the other ingredients you’re adding, if any. Check if your pasta is done, and if it’s ready, drain it in a large colander. Once the pasta is drained, it’s really just a matter of plonking everything in the baking dish, adding cheese and baking it.
Leave your pasta to drain for a few minutes, and add the sauce to the bottom of your baking dish. Add the pasta to the baking dish and mix until all the pasta is covered with sauce evenly. Take 1/3 the ricotta mixture and mix it through the pasta and sauce. If your using the other ingredients, with the exception of the artichokes, swirl them into the pasta now too. Once everything in incorporated, add the artichokes to the ricotta and mix well. Then spread the mixture evenly over the pasta, it doesn’t have to perfect, it will get covered with cheese at this point!. Sprinkle the Parmesan over it, then cover the whole thing with the mozzarella.
Once everything is done, put it in your oven and bake for 45 minutes, and allow at least 10 minutes of cooling time to be able to cut through it. If you reserved any herbs, sprinkle them over the plate when you’re serving. For the two of us, this will make 3 dinners, or at least 2 dinners and 1 lunch. It’s so good, and honestly, isn’t that easy? Mostaccioli, FEH!!
This is what ours looked like tonight!
For all of you that will be getting into Winter Storm Ivan, be safe, and don’t spend much time outside if you don’t absolutely have to! Cook something instead!