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Saturday, January 29, 2011

Creating the Perfect Anchovy or Vegetarian Baked Puttanesca

After recently completing my first Daring Bakers Challenge I was ready to relax a bit in the kitchen... And here's the thing: While baking is an exact science, casual cooking is far less rigid giving the home chef license to be creative. You can experiment adding more, less or different ingredients. What you create may not be perfect but chances are it will still be pretty darn good.
While I loved Carl Mindling's Baked Ziti recipe, it was so rich I'll only make it again for a special occasion. Because there's so much cheese (36 ounces to be exact) I wanted to come up with a lighter baked pasta I could make more often because I'm watching my cholesterol. In that spirit I set out to create the perfect Baked Puttanesca using Carl's ziti recipe as a base.

Carl had given me a jar of Rao's "Arrabiata" premium pasta sauce. It's pricier than most brands of bottled sauce but you can taste why. From the Rao's website:
"Fra Diavolo" Sauce with the spice of imported crushed red pepper, imported Italian tomatoes, imported pure Italian olive oil and blended with fresh garlic, fresh basil, black pepper and oregano. Spicy and perfect for pasta and seafood."
I used grated Asiago cheese with a bit of Pecorino Romano I had on hand. I left out the Ricotta and Mozzarella this time. With hindsight I will definitely add back in 8 ounces of Mozzarella (half of the 16 ounces the ziti recipe calls for) the next time I make this. In total my improvised recipe will only call for 16 ounces of cheese vs. 36 ounces.

This was around a tablespoon and a half of small capers. I didn't measure, just tossed in what looked like "enough."

I pitted and coarsely chopped around a ten kalamata olives. Because they're so salty I didn't use too many.

And to create the cheese crust I finely grated 2-3 oz of the Asiago Cheese. Next time I will stick with using the Pecorino Romano on top as it seems to have a better melting consistency.

After the pasta boiled I turned off the heat, drained the pasta in a colander, put the hot pot back on the burner and poured the bottle of Rao's sauce into the same pot to heat it up a bit adding in the capers and olives... I then mixed all of the other ingredients together then stirred all of it together and put it in the casserole dish.

Here is the pasta ready to pop into the oven. It looked and smelled so good!

And done after 20 minutes!

On a scale of 1 to 10 I'd give this try a soft 7. I think I overcooked the cheese crust just a bit, probably 17 minutes in the oven would have been best. And the mozzarella was a needed ingredient for my desired outcome Below I'll list not how I made this batch but how I will make it the next time. Hindsight is golden and I know I will be able to perfect this dish in the very near future.

1 lb of pasta (Rigatoni or Penne recommended)
1 jar of pasta sauce (Rao's, Safeway's "O" organics and Tyler Florence's Custom Sauces are my favorites)
1 1/2 TBS Capers (add more or less to taste)
12 Kalamata Olives - coarsley chopped (add more or less to taste)
3 oz Pecorino Romano Cheese (finely grated into powder)
5 oz Asiago Cheese (coarsely grated)
5 oz Fresh Mozzarella Cheese (cut into small cubes)
1 egg yolk
1 TBS Parsley (fresh or bottled)
1/4 tsp of ground black pepper
Nutmeg (fresh or bottled)

With Anchovies
If I made this dish with anchovies I would use no more than 3-4 fillets, and would saute them with the olives and capes in some olive oil then add in the pasta sauce to the saute pan to warm it. I'd also possibly leave out some of the olives to balance the saltiness of the anchovies.

  1. Boil pasta 2/3 of the standard cooking time. Turn off burner, remove from heat and drain in a colander.
  2. Preheat oven to bake at 425ยบ
  3. Place the now empty pasta pot back on the warm burner and add the jar of sauce, capers and olives to warm them. If you do this immediately after dumping the pasta the pot will be plenty hot. Add the pasta in and stir to mix and get the sauce down into the tubes. (Replace this step with the "WIth Anchovies" step described above if using anchovies)
  4. In a separate large bowl mix the asiago cheese, mozzarella cheese, parsley and a pinch of nutmeg together with the egg yolk to bind them together.
  5. Pour the heated pot of sauce, pasta, capers and olives into the bowl of cheeses and mix together.
  6. Pour into a casserole dish and sprinkle the grated pecorino romano cheese across the top to form the cheese crust.
  7. Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes until the cheese crust is melted and browned but dont' overcook or the crust will become tough.

If you're freezing the leftovers do so as soon as possible. The longer the dish sits out the more moisture from the sauce is absorbed into the pasta. I had what might be a kind of brilliant idea and will try it this time. I made 7 containers of individual sized portions of the pasta and put them in the freezer overnight. Then I used a second jar of the same sauce and poured some into each container and put them back in the freezer. This way when I reheat a portion the moisture that did absorb into the pasta will be replaced with the new sauce I topped off with. I think it will be better this way. I'll let you know how they turned out in a future post.

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