Tuesday, July 12, 2011

baked pasta with ricotta, mozzarella + basil

do you know what lycopenes are?

no? get ready, i'm about to drop some knowledge on you...

lycopene is an antioxidant compound that gives tomatoes and certain other fruits and vegetables their color. it is one of the major carotenoids in the diet of north americans and europeans. carotenoids are pigments that give yellow, red, and orange vegetables and fruits their colors. the body uses some types of carotenoids (but not lycopene) to make vitamin a. people who have diets rich in tomatoes, which contain lycopene, appear in some studies to have a lower risk of certain types of cancer, especially cancers of the prostate, lung, and stomach.

all of that mumbo jumbo means that tomatoes and tomato based sauces and dishes are good for you.which means you should eat lots of tomato-y dishes because hey! they are good for you and they are tasty.

everybody wins here.

to be honest, i only made this for dinner last night because i was craving pasta (which doesnt happen often in this house since we prefer our carbs in the form of bread or potatoes) and i wanted to make manicotti but since i have about 8 boxes of other pasta shapes in my cupboard, i couldnt justify buying a box of manicotti shells.

this dish really can be made with whatever kind of pasta floats your boat, but i think penne and bowtie are especially good here.

my favorite canned tomatoes to use are san marzano tomatoes. but of course, i cant find these in my little northern cali town, so i stock up on 4-5 cans when i make it to sacramento and whole foods market. they are so worth the $5/can price tag. no other canned tomato comes close in quality and flavor.

i usually use the whole ones and then crush their plump, juicy bodies with my wooden spoon as they cook and soften, but diced or even pureed work just as well and i have found no difference in the final flavor or texture of the sauce since i puree it in the end anyhow.

this baked pasta is another method over recipe dish. basically, cook your favorite pasta until not quite even al dente (my box of pasta said 11 minutes til al dente so i cooked the pasta for 7 minutes) then drain and layer- pasta, sauce, mozzarella, large drops of ricotta all over, basil. repeat. dont be stingy with the sauce because that is what holds it all together and keeps the pasta from drying out as it bakes.  

bake @ 375 tightly covered with foil for 20 minutes. remove foil and bake about 10 more minutes until bubbly and cheesy.

i made my own sauce by simmering...
a can of diced san marzano tomatoes and their juices with
1 clove smashed garlic
2 T butter and
a pinch of sugar

for about 25 minutes then added about 10 basil leaves torn up and cooked 10 more minutes.

let cool then puree.

voila!homemade sauce!

this sauce can be used for pizza, pasta and you can freeze it.

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