As far as being able to follow a recipe and it usually yielding edible results, I consider myself a decent cook. I like to make a big breakfast on the weekends. I like to bake, especially this time of year. I like cooking for lots of people. And I haven’t found something that I straight-up can’t cook *toots my own mediocre horn.* But something I don’t really attempt is writing my own recipes because I do not understand that shit. I’m super jealous of people that can because you guys are fancy as hell.
However, I do love to get my Italian-grandma on occasionally (I can say that because I have an actual Italian grandma) and throw a dish together, recipe be damned.
I’m not someone that can look in my fridge and see what I have and throw something amazing out of left field onto the stove. But I can do some shit with Italian food. Pasta is my safe space. I know pasta. Pasta and I were college roommates and stayed connected for life. And the pasta dish I can most get down with is a baked ziti that isn’t a baked ziti anymore. Confused? I get that a lot.
Since I’ve already told you that I’m crap at writing a recipe, I’m not going to write you a recipe. But if you know how to make a standard baked ziti, which is just sauce and pasta and cheese and sauce and cheese, I can tell you how to make it better.
First trick? Don’t use ziti.
Ziti is smooth and doesn’t hold sauce well. Everything kind of slides off. So if you want a good baked pasta, use something ridged. If you can find ziti rigate, by all means, get that. Rigate is Italian for buy this pasta, instead. If your grocery store only carries no less than five brands of ziti, none of which are rigate (like the ziti at my stinking store,) get some rigatoni. Rigatoni noodles are a little shorter and wider that ziti, but that little SOB has ridges and will hold your sauce.
Now that you’ve bought the pasta, cook it right. Salt your water when it boils. Add a little olive oil to the water if you want so the pasta doesn’t stick together. Then cook the pasta until it’s al dente. Do not fully cook it. You’re throwing those puppies in the oven and they’re going to cook a little more in there. If you fully cook them in the water, you will be scooping mushy pasta onto your plate by mealtime.
Once your pasta is finished cooking, drain it and then toss it back in the pot with a little sauce; just enough to coat. Turn your stove to low heat and stir, cooking it for a little less than a minute. This helps your pasta absorb a little of the sauce and its flavor. Try it. You will thank me.
While your pasta was cooking on the stove, you should have been preparing your cheese mixture. WHY WEREN’T YOU PREPARING YOUR CHEESE MIXTURE??!
If you want to liven up your cheese, mince a clove or two of garlic and cook it in some olive oil in a pan until it’s fragrant. Mix that in with your cheeses. If you’re not a big fan of garlic, you can skip this step and toss your whole dinner in the garbage because garlic is delicious. Now leave.
And I swear to god, if you try to use low-fat ricotta or part-skim mozzarella, I will pinch both of your eyelids. This is not a dish you should be making if you’re counting calories. You should be willfully ignorant of calories when consuming a delicious pasta bake. It’s whole milk or a whole face punch. Choose wisely.
Finally, the sauce. You can make your own sauce pretty easily on the stove with very few ingredients and not a ton of time. If you want to go for a jar sauce, get more than one jar. One whole one might seem like enough, but you’ll end up with a dry meal if you’re using an entire box of pasta. And try to pick something that’s a little chunky. If you pick that thin shit you might as well sub-in a can of tomato soup, you monster. Don’t come around here with your weak-ass sauce.
Do all these things. Not some. Do them all. You will pull a much more satisfying and substantial dish out of the oven when you’re done. You’re welcome, internet.
This post was brought to you by #NaBloPoMo or National Blog Post Month. I will be writing a blog post every day for the month of November. Now eat. You look too skinny.