Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ziti Therapy

There are weeks in one's life that you just want to go away.  I am unfortunately having one of those.  So of course when life delivers me a real stresser I always turn to cooking to try to minimize my stress level, and in turn alleviate my heartburn, headaches, and just the overall crap that goes along with feeling like you head is going to explode. 

Cooking to me is like an old friend that is always there when you need them and gives you that escape, if just for a moment, from the complications of life.  Sorry to get too philosophical, so I'll get to the point of the post.  When I need a good pick me up, something to make me smile a bit and forget my troubles I like to cook things that remind me of better days.  For me that is usually something involving pasta, since I am pretty much always in the mood for it and it has always been a staple at my family's table.  In fact some form of pasta was always served during my family's trips and get together's, it is kind of our family mascot.....if food could be one.  So for this cooking therapy session I decided to do a baked ziti, since it is usually something that is somewhat involved, but not overly complicated, and therefore will diverge my thoughts away from the list of crap I am dealing with, but not drain my brain anymore than it already is.  In preparing this dish I decided to do a two day therapy session, preparing the sauce the night before, and assembling and baking it the next night.  So what did my two day ziti therapy give me you might ask?  Firstly, it gave me a very happy tummy, and secondly it gave me that break from life I definitely needed, and in the end the hope that things will get better.......who needs Prozac when there's ziti.

Baked Ziti With
Zucchini, Olives, and Sausage

Estimated Cook Time: 2 hours

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1lb spicy Italian sausage
1 yellow onion diced
1 carrot diced
2 cups diced zucchini (about 4 small)
2/3 cup diced olives (I like Kalamata olives
but choose what you like)
4 garlic cloves minced
1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup fresh basil chopped
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
8oz fresh mozzarella diced
1 cup cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a medium saucepan heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Place the sausages in the pan and brown on both sides, about 3 minutes on each side.  Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and cook the sausages until they are cooked through, about 10 minutes.
Remove the sausages from the pan, cut into bite sized pieces, and set aside.  Pour off the excess grease and add the onion, carrot, zucchini, and garlic to the hot pan.  Cook the vegetables on medium heat until tender, about 10 minutes.  Once the vegetables are tender add the olives and diced sausage and cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, salt, sugar, and pepper and simmer the sauce on medium low heat until thickened and reduced.  About 45 minutes.  After the sauce has thickened add half of the fresh basil and the butter and cook an additional 10 minutes.  As I said before, you can make the sauce the night before, and assemble the ziti the next day, which is what I did and it worked out great.

For the pasta, heat a large stockpot filled with water on medium high heat until the water comes to a full boil.  While the water is heating preheat oven to 350 degrees.  When the water reaches a full boil salt the water and add the pasta.  Cook the pasta until it is just a bit firmer than al dente, about 8 minutes.  Drain pasta and pour hot pasta into a large mixing bowl.

Add to the pasta the sauce, the mozzarella, the ricotta, half of the Parmesan, and the remaining half of the basil.  Loosely toss the ingredients together and pour into a greased 9x13 inch baking dish.  Top with the remaining Parmesan cheese and bake until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is melted, about 35 minutes.

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