Baked Ziti a la Comfort Food

Baked Ziti

Ingredients
1 pound dried ziti pasta
Sea salt
3 1/2 cups Tomato Sauce, recipe follows
1 pound fresh mozzarella, half cut into 1/2-inch cubes and half thinly sliced
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes

Directions
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt generously, and boil the pasta until al dente, tender but still slightly firm. Drain.

Baked Ziti

Toss the cooked pasta with the marinara sauce, cubed mozzarella, half the Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and pepper flakes. Transfer the pasta to an oiled baking dish – again, I used my Le Creuset. Cover the top of the pasta with the sliced mozzarella, and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan. Bake until lightly browned and hot, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Tomato Sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
1/2 pound sweet Italian sausages, casing removed and crumbled
1/2 pound spicy Italian sausages, casing removed and crumbled
1/4 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup Italian bread crumbs
3 1/2 cups whole, peeled, canned tomatoes in puree, (one 28-ounce can), roughly chopped
Sprig fresh thyme
Sprig fresh basil
2 teaspoons sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add anchovy paste and dissolve. Add the sausage and cook until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the breadcrumbs and mix well.  Add the onion and garlic, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and the herb sprigs and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.

Baked Ziti

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Grilled Eggplant Preserve

SUMMER SEASON’S BEST!

Eggplant is beautiful and at it’s peak in the summer time.  I love to grill them with  extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice,  sea salt and black pepper.  But, since I’m the only one,  other than my 16-year-old,  crazy about this summer starlet,  I usually have left overs.

Grilled Eggplant

Grilled Eggplant

This weekend I did a little research on the best way to preserve them in the fridge.  Mostly I found pickling recipes. This was not what I had in mind.    So I did a little improvisation and this is what I came up with.

I took an old jar,  perfect for such a dish, and gathered a few ingredients.   More extra virgin olive oil,  (from Jason’s brother-in-law’s family farm in Greece) three cloves of garlic and five or six fresh basil leaves from my Window Herb Garden.  Here are the images.  I think we’ll item it up this week when Gigi is home.  We’ll most likely enjoy them with her nana’s roasted peppers and mozzarella on a nice Italian bread for a summer picnic.

I’d live to know how you prepare yours so please share your ideas with  me!

A little this and a little that

Layer Fresh Basil, Lemon Juice, Olive Oil, Garlic and Crushed Red Peper

Layer basil, olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper, lemon juice and salt and black pepper

Layering the Eggplant

Top it off with two or three more leaves of basil. Fill the jar, getting into all the nooks and crannies, with olive oil and a generous squeeze of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar.

IMG_7408

This also makes a great gift.

Delish Dish by Dena

I decided, last minute, to add two thin slices of lemon to give a little more acidity to the preserve.

Eggplant with Lemon

Basil Pesto: So Simple & Savory For Summer Dishes

Basil Pesto by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography

Basil Pesto by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography

Ingredients

2 cups packed fresh basil leaves (I triple wash them first then dry)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts (I often use walnuts or a combination of nuts)
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

Directions

Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add a little more than 1/3 cup of the oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

If using immediately, add all the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.

If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in cheese.

Great over pasta dishes, tomatoes, fish, beef, sandwiches, salads and crostinis.

Basil Pesto Preserve by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography

Basil Pesto Preserve by Dena Ferreira, Photo by Jason Homa Photography

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Delicious Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Nothing like the toasty goodness of sweet and salty brussels sprouts, oven roasted and served over barley with shaved grana padana and lemon.  Jason’s been working all day repairing a wall in the kitchen that suffered greatly last rainy season and I’m trapped in the office doing a close reading of The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Leo Tolstoy.  So a couple of things have been brewing here.  Firstly, our appetites and secondly, the mound of paint brushes, spackle tubs, dust and plastic covering over my spices , silverware and dishes.

To squelch the first tide, I squeezed into the fridge, dug out of the vegetable drawer the first thing I could grab.  Out came my little martian heads (that’s what I call them) and I grabbed a bag of barley from under the plastic (E.T. phone home).  Into my mini rice-cooker from my dorm days at I-House went 1 cup of pearl barley (just enough for the two of us) and 2 cups cold water, turned that on and wriggled my way to the kitchen sink where I washed and trimmed the sprouts.

Using a glass Pyrex roasting dish, I tossed the little heads into the pan with 1/4 cup shaved almonds, 1/8 cup dried cranberries, about 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, Portuguese sea salt, pepper, 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper, 1 tbsp. brown sugar and half the juice of a juicy Meyer’s lemon.  I’d already pre-heated my oven to 400° F so I just put the pan in the oven and set my timer for 35 minutes.

If you do this just the way I did, scattered and all, your barley should be done around the same time as your brussels sprouts.  From here I just fluffed my barley with 1 tbsp. unsalted butter, served into 2 pasta dishes and set aside.  Taking my sprouts out of the oven, I sprinkled a pinch of sea salt over them and dished them up over the barley.  Topping all of this toasty goodness, I shaved my favorite Italian hard cheese, grana padano, over each dish.

This proved to be the perfect late afternoon, pick-me-up snack for the two of us.  It’s full of nutrients and vitamins and the barley is a great way to keep my tummy from rumbling because it has to work hard to digest.

Jason is the first to admit to my girlfriend Laura, that he is a lucky man to have someone who cooks for him daily.  That being said,  I too must admit, that I am a very lucky woman to have such a handsome and loyal customer to cook for.