Take Comfort [Fierce Foodie]
The ancient Spartans saw food purely as fuel, and both royalty and peasants alike ate black bread with a blood and vinegar soup. The Romans, on the other hand, luxuriated in food as a symbol of wealth, and are famous for their exorbitant banquets of rare ingredients eaten lying down and punctuated by trips to the vomitorium. These are the age-old equivalents of living on a spelt and seaweed diet or dining exclusively on truffles and hand fed lobster. Today some people still run to these extremes, but for me, and many others I suspect, food is not purely fuel or status symbol, but comfort.
It is no big secret that comfort food is rarely meaty or green. Starch is king in the land of comfort food: sugary donuts, buttery mashed potatoes, chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, pancakes with syrup, cherry pie ala-mode, French fries, fresh bread with sweet butter, tater tots, or my personal favorite: white rice, with anything. Why doesn’t kale or a chicken leg give you the same buzz? You could argue that sugars and starches cause the brain to release the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is responsible for producing a sense of wellbeing and calm. This is the brain chemical that drugs like Prozac and Paxil work to elevate. You could also argue that when you were a kid, and you fell and scraped your knee, your mom handed you a cookie, and not a plate of steamed spinach to cheer you up.
So in the spirit of comfort and good cheer, I give you this recipe for baked ziti, or lazy lasagna. It all get mixed up in your tummy any way right?
(Courtesy of Simplyrecipes.com)
1 pound ziti (can sub penne) pasta
1 pound bulk Italian sausage or ground beef or pork
1 large onion, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh rosemary (or basil), minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme.
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 large jar of marinara sauce (about 32 ounces)
1/2 pound of mozzarella cheese, grated
1 heaping cup of ricotta cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese
1. Bring a large pot of water to a strong boil. Add about a tablespoon of salt for every 2 quarts of water. Add the pasta and boil, uncovered, until the pasta is al dente—edible but still a little firm. Drain the pasta through a colander. Toss with a little olive oil so the pasta does not stick together while you make the sauce.
2. Pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil into a large sauté pan on medium-high to heat. When the oil is hot, add the bulk sausage or ground meat. Do not crowd the pan (work in batches if needed). Break up any large chunks of sausage as it cooks. Brown well. Don’t stir that often or it will be more difficult for the meat to brown. If you are using ground beef or pork instead of sausage, add a little salt.
3. When the meat is mostly browned, add the onions and stir well to combine. Sauté everything until the onions become translucent and start to brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary or basil, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Cook 1 minute, then add the tomato sauce and stir well. Bring to a simmer.
4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a 9×13-inch casserole pan, then dot the surface with half the ricotta cheese. Ladle in some sauce with the pasta, mix it well and add the pasta into the casserole.
5. Pour the rest of the sauce over the pasta, dot the remaining ricotta cheese over the pasta, and sprinkle on top both the mozzarella and the Parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven until the top is nicely browned, about 20 minutes.
Yield: Serves at least 8.
featured image credit: cscan