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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Pasta Salad with Peas & Summer Beans

This dish is going to be the beginning of an appetizer and side dish extravaganza of belated posts I have been wanting to share. Perfect timing (I’d say!) right before the Fourth of July and the peak of cookout season. 🙂

I especially loved this pasta salad because it had an equal ratio of vegetables to pasta. It was super garlicky, without even modifying the original recipe, and fresh. I loved the use of whole wheat penne too.  This recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart Living. I increased the peas and green beans and omitted the wax beans. We ate it with grilled salmon sandwiches but it would also pair well with grilled chicken or tuna. Nice!

Yield: Serves 8

  • 8 ounces whole-wheat penne
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 12 ounces haricots verts or green beans, trimmed and cut into thirds
  • 7 ounces frozen peas (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced (2 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lime zest, plus 1 tablespoon fresh juice (about 1 1/2 limes)
  • 1 cup packed cilantro, finely chopped
  1. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water for 4 minutes.
  2. Add beans; cook until pasta and beans are al dente, 4 to 5 minutes more.
  3. Add peas and immediately drain. Run cold water over pasta and vegetables until completely cool; drain and transfer to a large bowl.
  4. In a small skillet, heat oil over medium-high. Add garlic; cook, stirring often, until golden, 30 seconds to 1 minute.
  5. Remove from heat; stir in lime zest and juice (it may splatter).
  6. Add dressing and 3/4 teaspoon salt to pasta bowl; season with pepper. Toss with cilantro.
  7. Adjust seasoning, if necessary, to taste.
  8. Serve, or refrigerate in an airtight container up to 1 day.

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Penne with Radicchio

In my house, no one is a huge fan of bitter radicchio in their salad. Cooking it not only decreases its bitterness, but also creates a rich and wonderful pasta sauce in this dish along with pancetta and cream. It’s great way to use this special autumn CSA box treat.

This recipe was adapted from Giuliano Hazan’s Thirty Minute Pasta via giulianohazan.com. I modified the proportions of many ingredients, incorporated whole wheat pasta, and used leeks instead of sweet onions. Yummy.

Yield: Serves 2 to 3

  • 2 leeks, sliced into half moons, soaked and drained
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 4 ounces pancetta, cubed
  • 1/2 pound radicchio, finely shredded
  • coarse salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3-4 sprigs flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped (about 2 T)
  • 1/2 pound whole wheat penne or fusilli
  • 6 T  heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup grated freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

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  1. Fill a pot for the pasta with about 6 quarts of water, place over high heat, and bring to a boil.
  2. Put the butter in a 12” skillet and place over medium high heat. When the butter begins to melt, add the clean leeks and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes.
  3. While the leeks are sautéing, remove any bruised leaves from the radicchio, cut it in half lengthwise and cut off the bottom of the root. Finely shred the radicchio. (I used a food processor.)
  4. When the leeks are soft, add the pancetta and cook until it loses its raw color 1-2 minutes.
  5. Add the radicchio and season with salt and pepper. Add about 1/4 cup water, lower the heat to medium, and cover the pan.
  6. Cook until the radicchio is very tender, about 20 minutes. Check it periodically and add more water if the liquid evaporates before the radicchio is tender.
  7. While the radicchio is cooking, finely chop enough parsley to measure about 2 tablespoons.
  8. After the radicchio has been cooking for at least 15 minutes, generously salt the boiling pasta water, put in the penne, and stir well. Cook until al dente.
  9. When the radicchio is tender, uncover the pan, raise the heat and let any remaining moisture evaporate. Add the cream and parsley. Cook until the cream has thickened and reduced by about one-third.
  10. When the pasta is done, drain well, toss with the sauce and cheese. Top with additional grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and parsley, as desired. Serve at once.

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Penne with Vodka-Cream Sauce

This year, my son qualified to compete in our County Championship swim meet for the first time! 🙂 The swim club hosts a HUGE pasta party the evening before the meet begins. Many many families bring pasta for all of the swimmers and their families to share. You have never seen so much pasta in your life!! Incredible.

I decided that in order to make it “fair,” I would bring my daughter’s absolute favorite pasta dish, so that the evening was special for her as well. The mistake was that – by appearance only (of course!)- it was indistinguishable from any jarred sauce… if the crowd only knew that it was made with the coveted recipe from Chicago John of one of my absolute favorite blogs From The Bartolini Kitchens… Well, it left more delicious penne a la vodka for us! Yay! 😉

I made this fabulous creamy red sauce including both pancetta and red pepper flakes- but it is just as delicious as a vegetarian and/or non-spicy version. It is particularly fabulous served with garlic bread and green salad. A crowd pleaser. Simple and perfect!

  • olive oil
  • 1 T unsalted butter
  • 1/4 – 1/3 lb. chopped prosciutto or pancetta, optional
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, optional
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup vodka
  • 1 28 oz. can tomatoes, diced or crushed (preferably San Marzano)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 T fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 T fresh basil, chopped
  • coarse salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound penne pasta
  • reserved pasta water
  • Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  1. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over med-low heat.
  2. Add pork product and slowly render the fat. Do not cook until crisp.
  3. Increase heat to med-high. Add butter, then onion, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. If needed, add some olive oil.
  4. Season with salt & pepper; add the red pepper flakes (if using) and the garlic, and continue sautéing for another minute.
  5. Remove pan from heat, add vodka, stir to combine, return to heat. Have a pan lid nearby to smother the flame should the vodka ignite. Allow to reduce for about 3 minutes.
  6. Add tomatoes, cream, parsley, season with salt and pepper, stir thoroughly, bring to a boil, and reduce to a low simmer.
  7. After sauce has simmered for 20 minutes, begin heating a large pot of salted water in which to cook the penne. Cook the pasta per package directions, cooking until about 2 minutes before al dente.
  8. Reserve a cup of the pasta water, strain the penne, and add the pasta to the tomato sauce.
  9. Continue cooking the combined pasta and sauce until the pasta is done to your liking. Add some of the reserved pasta water to the pan if the pasta becomes dry during this last step of the cooking process.
  10. Just before serving, add the basil, mix well, and garnish the serving platter with grated pecorino romano cheese. Serve immediately.

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Roasted Tomato & Pancetta Penne

When we have guests staying at our house, I spend extra time menu planning. It is tricky because I want to serve something tasty, but not time-consuming. I also have a chance to splurge on desserts- and have to allow time for that! 🙂

My in-laws were visiting us recently, and I served this dish after a busy day. It was quick, delicious, and well-received! The roasted tomatoes were sweet and bursting with flavor. I reduced the amount of red pepper flakes (to 1/4 teaspoon) and added my special CSA hard-neck garlic. I thought that the garlic made the dish. This recipe was adapted from Martha Stewart Living. Great!

  • 2 pounds grape or cherry tomatoes
  • 1 thinly sliced large red onion
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, to taste
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 ounces pancetta, diced small
  • 2 large cloves hard-neck garlic
  • 3/4 pound penne
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  1. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss tomatoes with onion, oil, and red-pepper flakes; season and top with pancetta.
  2. Roast at 450 degrees (on convection roast) until tomatoes burst, about 20 minutes, rotating pan once. Halfway through the roasting process, add the sliced garlic, stir.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the penne, reserving 1/4 cup pasta water. Toss penne with tomato mixture, parsley, and pasta water (as needed); season.

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Mexican-Style Chicken over Penne

IMG_8421 - Version 2

Chipotles, Cheese, Chicken Thighs… mmm… this dish could have just as easily been a taco or burrito filling, but we ate it over penne. 🙂 I had to make a Mexican dish to enjoy my new margarita glasses in the warmer weather! This dish was adapted from Food and Wine, contributed by Melissa Rubel Jacobson. I used a combination of cheeses and increased the amount of chicken, garlic, corn, and cheese in the dish.

Yield: Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 pound penne rigate (I used whole wheat)
  •  5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch dice
  •  Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •  1 large sweet onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  •  One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
  •  1 large chipotle in adobo sauce, seeded and minced, plus 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
  • 1 cup frozen corn, thawed
  •  1/4 pound queso fresco, queso blanco and/or mozzarella cheese, coarsely grated (1 1/3 cups)
  •  1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the penne and cook until al dente. Drain the penne.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, add it to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat until lightly browned, about 4 minutes.
  3. Add the onion and garlic and cook over moderate heat until the onion is softened and the chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes.
  4. Add the diced tomatoes, chipotle and adobo sauce and cook until heated through, about 2 minutes. Add the corn, season with salt and pepper and cook until the corn is heated through, about 1 minute.
  5. Add the penne and the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the sauce and toss to coat. Add 1 cup of the cheese and toss.
  6. Transfer the pasta to bowls, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and the cilantro and serve.

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