Pasta names always sound so flavorful. Lasagna, fusilli, gnocchi, tortellini, fettucine. All the –inis and the -e sounds roll off the tongue in a different way.
The names make you think of the one street vendor that gives out free samples of freshly baked bread with a bright smile, the open kitchens in restaurants with billows of heat coming from the pizza hearth, the old women who hold the secrets of authentic Italian cuisine, with rolled pasta sheets in hand, flour dusted aprons and spices flying everywhere.
But it’s not just the names. It’s the flavors of Italy, the bite of perfectly al-dente pasta, the drifting scent of thick red sauce that lingers in the air after bubbling away merrily in a pot all day. It’s the tart sweetness of bursting tomatoes and caramelized onions and a dash of spices. It’s like what home would taste like, full of comfort, sweetness and warmth.
What could be more indicative of this sort of description than baked ziti?
It’s pasta coated in simmering tomato sauce, chunks of freshly roasted tomatoes and a slip of red pepper flakes.
It also has mozzarella that you can twirl around your fork as the strings of cheese lengthen and melt into the sauce and the pasta.
And finally, it has just a little parmesan, salty and textured, to break the silkiness of the base ingredients.
Served with slices of fresh garlic bread, crunchy and chewy, it’s the perfect meal for a rainy day indoors or a sunshiny day and a picnic on sun-warmed grass. Anytime, really.
Start by drizzling a tiny bit of olive oil into a soup bowl and then add a dash of salt. Chop up a few onion slices from the salad bar into small squares using a bread knife. Cut a few cherry tomatoes in half and toss those in the bowl along with the onion.
Microwave the concoction until the onions are almost translucent and the cherry tomatoes have softened and burst. This usually takes around 30 seconds.
Then pour in a scoop of marinara sauce and stir. Toss some pasta into the sauce and stir lightly until everything is evenly distributed.
Add the pasta and sauce mixture in an even layer in another bowl. Take a slice of round mozzarella cheese and rip it into smaller pieces. Lay the pieces on top of the pasta layer.
Dust a light dash of red pepper flakes on top and then sprinkle a spoonful of shredded, not powered, parmesan cheese.
Repeat the layers of pasta and sauce, cheese and seasoning until the bowl is full, but not overflowing. Then heat it up in the microwave until the mozzarella has completely melted into the pasta.
Meanwhile, grab a little bit of garlic from the stir-fry station downstairs and put it in a bowl. Sprinkle a little salt and pepper into the bowl and whisk the mixture with a fork.
Take a small scoop of butter and heat it for a few seconds so that it can be stirred and mixed easily. Then mix it in with the garlic, salt and pepper mixture until everything looks evenly distributed.
Spread the butter and garlic mixture onto a few slices of bread. Place the pieces of bread with the spread into the panini maker, but be sure to leave the top side of the Panini maker inches above the bread so that it does not touch the spread on the bread.
Wait until the bread begins to brown and the butter has soaked into the bread.
Take the baked ziti out of the microwave, slide the bread out, cut it into strips and enjoy! Bon Appétit!