American family / friends

Creamy Baked Ziti

Saturday, February 08, 2014Enz F




Just recently, Baby Bola celebrated her 2nd month birthday. She is the bouncing baby girl of my very good friends, Jason and Princess (they are the ones I referred to in my previous post who taught me that baby potatoes and chayote could be a good hit to chicken curry dish). Since first-time mom and dad, it has been customary to the cheerful couple to monthly celebrate the birth of their first-born child (that would most likely be until the baby turns 1 year old), and probably one way of expressing their undying joy and gratitude for the grace of finally having an angel into their home.

Red sauce below, white on top


The bouncing ball turns two months
Crisijace, or Baby Bola as I fondly call her because of her glowing reddish skin and cheeky cute angelic feature that resembles a ball, is a very cheerful child and I cannot just imagine the joy she has brought to my couple friends. She is scheduled to be baptized on the 22nd and I am one of the lucky guys to be chosen as a godfather. Whenever there are occasions, no matter how grand or simple, I am always looped to their invitation which I always gladly welcome. I am not different from them and so they are to me. We are siblings; bound not by blood but by heart. The times we had shared since sangguniang kabataan (youth council) days, is something difficult to subvert (and yes, you got it right, their love story begun when we were in SK years back). Our stint as youth public servants, paved the way to many bitter-sweet experiences, long trips, escapades and realizations that brought our friendship together, getting even stronger all throughout the years. They serve as morale boosters and supporting walls during my highs and lows, and low lows. Insurmountable and priceless! 

My siblings from a different mother with their precious one
On simple occasions like this, it has been a practice to put something on the dining table. Limited budget is never an issue; as surely there is a way to celebrate even if it means just a slice of tasty bread and a glass of iced cold coke. It does not matter. It is a reflection, in reality, the resilience of Pinoy families in the face of difficulties and struggles. It is in our genes to keep smiling amidst the trials of life, and probably one of the best qualities we have. That was a dinner invite from Princess and I was told that Jason is baking ziti pasta for us. I really have to admit that I never say no to a food invitation so hastily I prepared myself and headed to their home which is just near to mine as we are living in the same barangay. 

Baked ziti is a traditional Italian-American pasta casserole dish made from ziti macaroni with red and white sauce. The ziti is being cooked first based on its package instructions while the sauces are separately prepared. Red sauce is composed of meat, sausages, mushrooms and various spices such as garlic, onions, peppers, basil, oregano and parsley, simmered in tomato sauce or marinara. White sauce, on the other hand, is a combination of some eggs and varieties of Italian cheeses like, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan and pecorino. The cooked ziti are then combined with a portion of the red and white sauce, layered in the casserole pan, ladled with the red and white sauce per layer, topped with grated traditional cheeses and spices (whatever available at hand), and then finally baked in the preheat oven. Maybe a bit complex but that is basically the traditional way of preparing this dish. Jason’s version is somewhat straightforward. No need to fuss with the layering and skip the fancy Italian cheeses and sausages. He tries to make things less complicated by simply tossing the ziti with the red sauce (no more layering) before transferring everything in the baking tray to be oven-baked for 30 minutes. The white sauce is an easy combination of simmered evaporated milk, all purpose cream, grated quickmelt cheese and seasonings, which is added over the pasta right after baking. Finishing touch is to sprinkle the top with the remaining grated cheese and minced parsley while the dish is steaming hot. Life should be made trouble-free, especially if you have limited access to all these costly and sophisticated ingredients, so long as you never deviate from your ultimate purpose of living delightfully.

A traditional Italian-American pasta casserole dish, simplified
While I nibble on the juicy warm pasta, I was like a Master Chef’s judge about to give out some comments and the much awaited verdict. And guess what? With very little words, I had almost finished off more than a quarter of the 9 by 13 inch tray of the casserole dish. That alone, could already explain it all. The pasta is still delish as it should be and the toppings is oozing with creaminess. Just like the stylish classic dish made effortless, I feel so lucky to keep a bunch of simple people with extraordinarily big hearts, effortlessly ready to offer a portion of themselves in any way they can.


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Creamy Baked Ziti
Number of servings: 5 to 6


INGREDIENTS: 
  • 1 lb. ziti pasta 
For the red sauce 
  • 500 g. (17 oz.) traditional tomato sauce in can or pouch 
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 1 pc white onions, finely chopped 
  • ½ lb. ground beef 
  • ½ lb. hotdog, chopped into slant ovals 
  • 1 small (4 oz.) canned button mushrooms, sliced 
  • 1 tsp. salt 
  • 1 tsp. pepper 
  • 1 tsp. dried basil 
  • 1 tsp. oregano 
  • 2 tbsps. fresh parsley 
  • 2 tbsps. olive oil 
For the white sauce 
  • 1 cup evaporated milk 
  • 1 to 2 pouches of 250 g. (9 oz.) all purpose cream 
  • 2 to 3 tbsps. cornstarch 
  • 1 cup quickmelt cheese, grated 

PROCEDURE:
  1. Cook the ziti pasta based on the package instructions. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a large saucepan over medium to high fire, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion, garlic and ground beef. Stir continuously until the beef turns brown. Put in the mushrooms and tomato sauce and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. 
  3. Sprinkle with oregano and basil, and then season with salt and pepper. 
  4. Toss the ziti pasta and the red sauce. Do this until the ingredients are well-blended. While mixing, preheat the oven to 250ºF. 
  5. Bake the pasta with red sauce in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes. 
  6. While baking, prepare the white sauce. Using a clean saucepan over low to medium heat, simmer the combined evaporated milk, all purpose cream and ¼ cup grated cheese. Add some cornstarch and stir constantly until the sauce thickens. Season with some salt and pepper. Set aside. 
  7. If the baking is done, ladle over the white sauce until evenly distributed. Top with the remaining cheese and sprinkle with parsley. 
  8. Serve hot with garlic bread toast. Enjoy! 

TIPS FROM ENZ: 
  1. You may drain the ziti pasta before it reaches the al dente stage as you are still going to bake this in the oven. This will give you a fighting chance to have some bite when it is done. 
  2. If you want some spicy red sauce, you may add some red chili flakes or whatever spicy chili available. 
  3. Make sure to dot the cheese toppings right on while the pasta is still steaming hot to let it melt on its own.

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