Monday, September 12, 2011

Baked Ziti for a Meatless Monday

A dear friend of mine invited me to attend a cooking demo with her at Williams Sonoma Saturday morning and so, of course, I went. This particular series of demos is all about the cuisine of Rome. Saturday morning it was all about Pasta (it is partially a pitch for their products since they now sell beautiful dried pastas and jars of unique pasta sauces at a 10% discount since you have attended their little class). I did get to taste a baked ziti dish while I was there along with some freshly cooked bucatini topped with two of their different sauces. I have to say I really enjoyed the Lemon Caper Sauce. I will need to jot down the ingredients next time I'm there so I can try to recreate it at home.

I served the pasta with some leftover homemade French bread which was drizzled with olive oil and cooked on the grill pan. Once grilled, I rubbed them with a sliced garlic clove to gently flavor them with the garlic. We also had a simple salad of Romaine lettuce with fresh tomato wedges dressed with the Best Salad Dressing in the World.

Tonight's dinner is adapted from Williams-Sonoma Rustic Italian Cookbook.

Baked Ziti with Eggplant - Serves 4

1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb. eggplant, peeled and cubed
4 oz. baby portobello mushrooms
1 teaspoon salt, plus more, to taste
1 garlic clove, crushed flat but left whole
2 1/2 cups canned tomatoes (I used San Marzano whole tomatoes in puree, which I crushed by hand)
3 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
1/2 lb. dried ziti, penne or other short, sturdy pasta
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

In a large fry pan over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the eggplant and mushrooms and stir to coat with the oil. Sprinkle in 1/2 teaspoon salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Saute until the vegetables are tender and browned in spots, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, combine remaining olive oil and the garlic and warm until the garlic begins to sizzle, about 2 minutes. Press the garlic with the back of a wooden spoon to release its aroma. Do not let the garlic brown or it will become bitter. Slowly pour the tomatoes into the pan. Be careful, because the oil and juice will spatter. Stir in the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until nicely thickened, about 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the basil. Cover the sauce to keep warm.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water, the return the pasta to the pot. Add the eggplant and mushrooms, about two-thirds of the sauce and the mozzarella and toss gently but thoroughly. Add a splash or two o the pasta-cooking water to loosen the sauce, if needed.

Preheat an oven to 400 degrees. Coat an 8-inch square baking dish with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil.

Spoon the dressed pasta into the prepared baking dish. Top with the remaining sauce and the Parmiagiano-Reggiano. Bake, uncovered, until bubbly and browned on top, about 30 minutes. Serve hot.

This dinner gets:

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