Baked Ziti with Cauliflower

Adding vegetables to a baked pasta dish is a wonderful way to slim it down and make it a little bit healthier. My son enjoyed this version as much as our standard super cheesy baked ziti. Not only does this version incorporate cauliflower, it is also upgraded by adding flavor from saffron and anchovies.

This recipe was adapted from The New York Times, contributed by Martha Rose Shulman. The dish was inspired by another Sicilian cauliflower dish in Clifford A. Wright’s “Cucinia Paradiso.” I modified the recipe by roasting the cauliflower, increasing the garlic and tomatoes, using whole wheat pasta, and incorporating mozzarella cheese. Great.

Yield: Serves 6

  • 1 medium cauliflower, about 2 pounds, leaves and stem trimmed, cut into florets
  • coarse salt, to taste
  • pinch of saffron threads
  • 2-4 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 anchovy fillets, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes, with juice
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 T chopped flat leaf parsley
  • ¾ pound ziti or penne rigate (I used whole wheat penne)
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
  • 1/2 pound part-skim mozzarella cheese, grated
  1. Preheat an oven to 425 degrees, preferably on convection roast.
  2. On a parchment paper lined, rimmed baking sheet, toss the cauliflower florets with 1-2 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until tender.
  3. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, on convection.
  4. Place the saffron in a small bowl and add 3 tablespoons warm water. Let steep for 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. Combine the grated cheeses in a bowl.
  6. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy skillet and add the garlic. Cook, stirring, until it smells fragrant, about 30 seconds to a minute, and add the anchovies and tomatoes. Season to taste with salt (remembering that the anchovies will contribute a lot of salt) and freshly ground pepper.
  7. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and smell fragrant, about 10 minutes.
  8. Stir in the roasted cauliflower, saffron with its soaking water, and parsley, cover and simmer for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  9. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt generously. Add the pasta. Cook until just al dente, a few minutes less than you would cook it to serve. It will soften further when it bakes. (I cooked the whole wheat penne noodles for 5 minutes, 2 minutes shy of al dente.) Drain and transfer to a bowl.
  10. Oil a 3-quart baking dish. Toss the pasta with half the cauliflower mixture and half the cheese and spoon into the baking dish.
  11. Combine the remaining cauliflower mixture with half of the remaining cheese and spoon over the pasta.
  12. Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the top. Drizzle on the remaining tablespoon of oil.
  13. Place in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until bubbling. Garnish with parsley, if desired. Serve hot.

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Creamy Ricotta, Fresh Corn & Tomato Baked Ziti

Yes! More tomatoes. They are taking over my kitchen! 🙂 I loved that this dish also incorporated sweet summer corn- and basil.

This is a wonderful summertime version of one of my favorite winter casseroles. Cheesy but not too rich. It’s a guaranteed crowd-pleaser.

The recipe was adapted from TheKitchn.com, contributed by Christine Gallary. I modified the proportions, reduced the pasta cooking time, and used Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in the sauce. Great.

Yield: Serves 6 to 8
  • cooking spray
  • 1 pound dried penne or ziti pasta
  • 15 to 16 ounces whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 6 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (about 4 to 5 medium), diced
  • 2 cups fresh corn kernels (I used kernels from 3 ears of corn)
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 425°F, preferably on convection. Coat a 9×13-inch baking dish with cooking spray; set aside.
  3. Add the pasta to the water and cook about 2 minutes shy of al dente, about 8 minutes, or adjust according to package directions.
  4. Meanwhile, place the ricotta cheese, milk, Parmigiano-Reggiano, garlic, salt, and pepper in a blender and blend until very smooth; set aside. (I used a Vitamix.)
  5. Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Add the tomatoes, corn, and ricotta sauce and stir until thoroughly combined.
  6. Transfer to the baking dish. Cover tightly with foil.
  7. Bake until bubbling around the edges, 30 minutes. Uncover and stir to evenly coat with sauce.
  8. Taste and season with salt as needed. Sprinkle with the basil. Serve.

Note: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

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Spaghetti with Tomatoes & Anchovy Butter

My husband waters a friends’ tomato plants for one week every summer while they are on vacation. I really look forward to it because we get to eat all of the ripe specimens. 🙂

This dish was a spectacular way to use our giant load of vine-ripened tomatoes. The stick of butter in the sauce made it restaurant-esque. 😉 Rich and absolutely fabulous!

This recipe was adapted from Bon Appetit, contributed by Alison Roman. I doubled the recipe, increased the garlic, and used whole wheat spaghetti. The whole wheat pasta added a wonderful bite to the finished dish. I also omitted incorporating pasta water into the sauce because the consistency was perfect without it. I did save it for re-heating the leftovers.

Yield: 8 servings
  • 16 ounces whole wheat spaghetti
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 4 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
  • 12 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 4 pounds medium tomatoes, cut into eighths
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • chopped tender herbs (such as flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, and/or chives), as desired
  1. Cook spaghetti; drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.
  2. Meanwhile, heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  3. Cook anchovies and garlic, stirring often, until anchovies are broken down and garlic is soft, about 4 minutes.
  4. Add tomatoes; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until falling apart, 8–10 minutes.
  5. Toss in pasta; cook until sauce coats pasta, about 2 minutes. Incorporate pasta water to achieve desired sauce consistency.
  6. Toss in herbs, for garnish, as desired.

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Sam Sifton’s Middle-School Tacos

We are counting down the days until the end of my son’s elementary school career. 😦 His 6th grade Graduation- a.k.a. “Moving Up” ceremony- is next Tuesday. So… it’s the perfect time to share this recipe for a popular Middle-School lunch! I’m getting him ready for his next chapter. ❤

The recipe for these “Middle-School ‘Gringo’ Tacos” was featured in a New York Times article titled “The Case for Hard Shell Tacos,” contributed by Sam Sifton. They were a wonderful upgrade from a taco kit. 🙂 I used ground turkey instead of ground beef, decreased the chile powder and red pepper flakes, and doubled the garlic. We topped them with grated cheeses, sour cream, guacamole, shredded iceberg lettuce, and chopped grape tomatoes. I served them with refried beans on the side as well. Great.

Of course, my kids absolutely loved them! Then they informed me that their school lunch tacos are served in soft tortillas. Funny. Maybe that’s an elementary school thing? We’ll see! 😉

Time: 30 minutes

For the Meat Filling:

  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil, like canola, peanut or grapeseed
  • 1 medium-size yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 2 pounds ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1-2 tablespoons chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika (or substitute hot or sweet paprika)
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 cup chicken stock or beef broth, low-sodium if store-bought

For Serving:

  • 12-18 hard taco shells
  • refried beans, optional

Topping Suggestions:

  • grated cheese (I used both cheddar and Monterey Jack)
  • sliced jalapeños
  • chopped tomatoes
  • shredded lettuce or cabbage
  • sour cream
  • guacamole
  • lime wedges

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Place a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add the oil. When it begins to shimmer, add the onion, and cook until softened and starting to brown, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.
  3. Add the garlic, and cook for a minute or so to soften, and then the ground meat. Cook until it starts to brown, stirring and chopping with a spoon to break up the meat, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Pour off excess fat, leaving only a tablespoon or two in the pan.
  4. Add the chile powder, cumin, salt, pepper, cornstarch, paprika and red-pepper flakes, and stir to combine.
  5. Add the stock or broth, stir, bring to a simmer and cook uncovered until the sauce has thickened slightly, approximately 4 to 5 minutes.
  6. As sauce cooks, place taco shells (on a taco rack, if possible) on a sheet pan, and toast in oven until they are crisp and smell nutty, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Serve a few tablespoons of meat in each taco, along with whatever toppings you like.
  8. Serve with refried beans on the side, if desired.

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Happy Mother’s Day & Cooking for a Junior Girl Scout Cook Badge

Happy Mother’s Day! I wish all of the mom’s out there a beautiful and relaxing day. ❤ While Mr. BrookCook and my kids take care of me and the cooking today, I have time to share a special mother-daughter cooking project.

In order to earn a Junior Girl Scout Cook Badge, my daughter (with my help) had to cook a complete breakfast, a healthy dinner, and a delicious dessert. Understandably, she wanted to make meals that she wanted to eat! This was actually a great opportunity for her as she is harder to please when menu planning. It was a lesson in itself to see how much time and work is required to put together an entire meal. 🙂

We made Blueberry Cornmeal Muffins for breakfast with fruit salad on the side. She loved cutting all of the fruit herself. For the “healthy” dinner, she prepared a No-Boil Macaroni and Cheese (recipe below) with Simple Caesar Salad. Healthy enough, right? She loved it so much we have already made it again.

We made a Lemon Meringue Pie, using a store-bought pie crust, for dessert. Not only did she make the pie, she typed out the recipe to share with her Girl Scout Troop. A big project! She did a great job and I was very proud of her. I hope that she continues to enjoy cooking more and more in the future. ❤

No-Boil Macaroni & Cheese (adapted from Bon Appetit)

Yield: 8 Servings

For the Pasta:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 T coarse salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or more, to taste
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 2 cups shredded extra-sharp white cheddar, divided

For the Topping:

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 2 T chopped flat-leaf parsley
  1. Preheat oven to 400°, preferably on convection.
  2. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.
  3. Add flour; cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute.
  4. Whisk in milk and 3 cups water.
  5. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, whisking often, until a very thin, glossy sauce forms, about 10 minutes.
  6. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Remove sauce from heat.
  7. Toss pasta and 1 1/2 cups cheese in a 13x9x2-inch or other shallow 3-quart baking dish. Place on a rimmed baking sheet.
  8. Pour sauce over (pasta should be submerged; do not stir) and cover with foil.
  9. Bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes.

For the Topping:

  1. Melt remaining 1/4 cup butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  2. Add garlic, panko, and parsley and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To Finish the Dish:

  1. Remove foil from dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese, then panko mixture.
  2. Bake until pasta is tender, edges are bubbling, and top is golden brown, about 10 minutes longer.
  3. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

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Cheesy Chicken Enchilada Skillet

Somehow, we seem to always have a conflict with a having timely Cinco de Mayo feast. This year, my son has his Swim Club Dinner Dance (at an Italian restaurant, by the way), so, we had our feast early. This way, there is also time to have a second feast. Good planning, right?

This quick and easy, crowd-pleasing dish was perfect for our early Cinco de Mayo celebration. It would be perfect for a Mexican-inspired weeknight meal any other day of the year too. We enjoyed it with chips and guacamole, of course. 😉

This recipe was adapted from Epicurious.com, contributed by Anna Stockwell. I reduced the oven temperature, and increased the proportions as well as the pan size. Great.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Total Time: 30 minutes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2  teaspoons kosher salt
  • 24 oz (1 1/2 jars) medium red salsa (I used Trader Joe’s Garlic Chipotle Salsa)
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 6 corn tortillas, torn into quarters
  • 6 cups shredded cooked chicken (from 1 rotisserie chicken)
  • 1 to 2 cans (15.5-ounce each) black beans, drained, rinsed (I used 1 1/2 cans)
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded Mexican cheese blend
  • cilantro, for garnish, optional
  1. Preheat oven to 425°F, preferably on convection.
  2. Combine salsa, sour cream, and 6 T water in a large bowl; stir to combine. Fold in tortillas, chicken, and beans until thoroughly coated.
  3. Heat oil in a 12″ ovenproof skillet over medium. (I used cast iron.)
  4. Add onion, garlic, cumin, and salt and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Transfer onion mixture to the chicken and bean mixture; reserve hot skillet. Fold to incorporate evenly.
  6. Return mixture to reserved skillet and transfer to preheated oven until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Mixture should be bubbling on the edges.
  7. Remove skillet from the oven. Sprinkle cheese evenly over the top.
  8. Return skillet to oven and bake until cheese is lightly browned, melted and bubbling, about 7 to 10 minutes.
  9. Top with cilantro, if desired.

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Easy Enchilada Pie

My son’s third grade teacher told the class that they each needed to know three recipes by heart before going to college. What good advice! 😉 Besides a good vinaigrette, this one might make the list! 🙂 It’s an easy crowd pleaser.

This recipe is also quick… super super fast. 🙂 It initially caught my eye because it included a “2-minute” enchilada sauce (as well as a lot of ingredients from Trader Joe’s!). We were not disappointed. It was a perfect, comforting, and family friendly weeknight meal. I especially loved the sauce. This recipe was adapted from Feasting at Home. I added an additional layer of tortillas as well as cheese to the top. Now I need to teach my kids how to make it! 🙂

For the 2-Minute Enchilada Sauce:

  • 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes (preferably fire roasted)(Trader Joe’s!)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • ¼-½ tsp chipotle chile powder, to taste (or add a canned chipotle pepper, smoked paprika, and/or cayenne for heat)
  • 1 ½ tsp coarse salt
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  1. Add all of the ingredients to a Vitamix (or blender) and blend until smooth.

To Complete the Enchilada Pie:

  • 2-Minute Enchilada Sauce
  • 12-14 6-inch corn tortillas
  • 2 15-oz cans seasoned black beans (like Trader Joe’s Cuban Style Black Beans)
  • 16 oz bag frozen fire roasted corn (Trader Joe’s) or other roasted vegetables
  • 2 1/2 cups coarsely grated Mexican style cheese or blend (I used Monterey Jack)
  • 4 ounce can green chilies, preferably fire roasted (Trader Joe’s)
  • cilantro, to taste as well as additional chopped cilantro for garnish
  • diced avocado, sour cream, hot sauce, as desired for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, preferably on convection.
  2. In the bottom of a 9 x 13 inch baking dish, spread out a scant amount of the enchilada sauce- just enough to lightly coat the bottom. (I used an enameled cast iron baking dish.)
  3. Spread 4-5 tortillas on top of the sauce.
  4. Drain one can of seasoned beans, and spread out over the tortillas. (Drain well!)
  5. Spread out half of the frozen roasted corn.
  6. Spread out 1 cup of the shredded cheese.
  7. Scatter ½ of the canned green chilies and a little chopped cilantro.
  8. Spread a second layer of 4-5 tortillas over the mixture.
  9. Then repeat with another can of drained seasoned beans. (cooked chicken, chorizo,or ground meat can be substituted, if desired)
  10. Top with rest of the corn, the cheese, the chilies and cilantro.
  11. Drizzle with ⅓ of the enchilada sauce and top with 4-5 more tortillas.
  12. Spread the remaining sauce over the tortillas.
  13. Cover and bake for 30 minutes.
  14. Uncover, top with remaining 1/2 cup of cheese and bake 8 to 10 more minutes, until the cheese is melted and lightly browned.
  15. Garnish with diced avocado, and cilantro. Cut into servings and serve with sour cream and hot sauce, if desired.

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