Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Baked Ziti a la Bolognese

You can make "baked ziti" a lot of different ways. Most have ricotta or mozzarella. Which is awesome. This one doesn't. It's a combination of two classic sauces, a bolognese (meat sauce) and a besciamella (white sauce, or bechamel) and pasta.

This recipe is more complicated than the previous posts, but it's still not too complicated. The three parts (meat sauce, white sauce, and pasta) are all prepared separately and combined and baked.

You can start by putting some water on to boil your pasta. Even though I call this "Baked ZITI", you can use any hollow tube-like pasta. I used whole wheat penne-rigate for this.

Once your pasta is done, just drain it and put it back in the pot you cooked it in. You'll be combining everything in this pot at the end.

Let's do the meat sauce first:

Meat Sauce (loosely based on Alton Brown's spaghetti recipe) 
1 tablespoon of butter
1 onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 whole star anise pod
3 cloves garlic
1/2 pound ground beef
1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/8 cup white wine
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1 1/2 cups beef broth

Put the butter into a pan (ok, truth be told, I use bacon grease, leftover from breakfast that I freeze. It's awesome, don't judge me).

Add the diced onion, celery, star anise pod, ground cloves, salt and pepper. Let it cook until soft, about 5 minutes.

Brown the ground beef in a separate pan along with salt/pepper and the Italian seasoning.

Drain the fat from the beef and add the it to the veggies.

Add the garlic, evaporated milk, wine and beef broth.

Cook all of this at a strong simmer (stirring occasionally) until most of the liquid has evaporated. It took me about 20 minutes.


It is done doing it's thing.

Pour 2 cups of red sauce (you can make your own sauce, which I do sometimes, but in the interest of time, I'm just using el cheapo bottled pasta sauce) into the meat mixture, and simmer this on low while you take care of everything else.

Now we make the white sauce:

Besciamella Sauce (straight from Mario Batali)
5 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

In a medium saucepan, heat butter until melted. Add flour a bit at a time and stir until smooth, over medium heat, cook until light golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes. This is called a roux! (if you've never made one)

Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan or in the microwave until just about to boil.

Add milk to the roux, 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth and bring to a boil.

This part is very hard to photograph since you have to stir CONSTANTLY lest it sticks to the bottom or becomes lumpy. Hence the lumps in the pic:

The lumps come out if you stir it enough.

This part is actually really cool. You'll feel like you're doing a science project as the sauce thickens before your eyes. It's really cool.

Yes, I nerd.

Anyway, keep adding and stirring as it thickens until you're out of milk. Cook it until it looks as thick as it's going to get. It should be bubbling up a storm. That's OK. Remove it from the heat and add the salt and nutmeg (yes, I used fresh nutmeg, but it's not a requirement).


Everything's ready to combine.

Combine everything in the pot you boiled the pasta in and add 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese. PLEASE use fresh grated or high quality store bought cheese. It makes a huge difference.

 Give it a good stir and pour it into a 9x13 baking dish.

I usually do this ahead of time and stick it in the fridge until it's time to bake.

When you're ready, sprinkle 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs over top and bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until bubbly!


This is already pretty finger friendly, but sometimes I go ahead and cut the noodles in half for her quick devouring pleasure.

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