After a gloriously warm Memorial Day, New Haven has again been overtaken by the Winter That Will Never End, as I am coming to think of 2009. It’s bleak, and totally confusing, culinarily. This weekend was full of early salad greens and radishes and peas—I’ve even been starting to think about all the ways to eat fava beans.
But shivering on my way home from work today (flowery short-sleeved dress, hah!) my mind turned back to things like pork ragout and spaghetti Bolognese. Luckily, in an attempt to use up a ton of ground beef, I recently made a huge pot of tomato-ey, beefy, carrot-sweet sauce, from the Best Pasta Sauce Recipe ever. I had made it timorously, thinking that with summer all but here, filling my freezer with a wintry sauce was sort of silly. (Again, hah.)
Anyway, the point is that I had a few pints of tomato sauce, and even, miraculously, some leftover ziti. With the total lack of imagination that’s been characterizing my cooking lately, I initially thought to microwave the leftover pasta with some of the leftover sauce (Alice Waters, I’m sorry…) but on the way home a brainstorm hit: baked pasta!
I know, baked pasta is sort of déclassé, or middlebrow, or maybe that’s just my own bias. (Sometimes my boyfriend calls me “Polly Pickypants.” I think it’s because of opinions like these.)
But I was so excited to think of something to DO– something approximating Real Cooking– with all these leftovers that I threw snobbishness to the wind and popped into the deli for fresh mozzarella on the way home. Once home, I turned on the oven, assembled the leftover pasta and sauce, a handful of basil leaves, and the mozzarella.
This hardly justifies a recipe, really, it’s more of a recommendation (something like, try to at least be slightly imaginative about your leftovers!) but here’s what I had on hand:
About half a pound of leftover ziti
About 2 pints of leftover Bolognese sauce (although I imagine plain old tomato sauce would do just as well. I think it’s worth having homemade sauce, as its flavor is really the star of the dish.)
About 10 basil leaves
About 8 oz. (two balls) of mozzarella
(Note: other than the mozzarella, these amounts are based on what I had on hand. They baked up to a generous dinner for me along with a nicely-sized lunch portion for the next day. You could easily double each of these recommended amounts and bake in a 9x13inch pan.)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Toss the pasta with some of the sauce and parmesan and put a layer in a 9x9inch baking pan, then add some more sauce on top and a layer of mozzarella and some basil leaves, then make another layer of pasta and another layer of mozzarella and parmesan. Bake for about 10 minutes, until it bubbles slightly and the mozzarella is melting, and then put it under the broiler for a few moments. It will emerge resplendent.
Which leads me to a small confession: I wrote the bulk of this post as the pasta was in the oven, pretty convinced it was going to be delicious enough to share. It really, really was: something about the baking seemed to make the flavor of the sauce even deeper, and the small hunks of melty mozzarella throughout were chewy and gooey and delicious. So make this before it gets warm again—which it doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon—it’s so good, it might even be worth starting from scratch.