Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Grandma’s Turning in Her Grave Baked Ziti

Yep, that's deli provolone, not mozzarella

This was going to be a no-holds-barred baked ziti. Replete with mini sausage meatballs, whole milk fresh ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, pecorino Romano, mushrooms, spinach, lots of pasta, you name it. The full Monty. Just like my Grandma and my mother made. Until I got on the scale this morning. I still weigh the same as I did at Christmas, and I was going to be lighter by Spring. It’s Spring and I’m no thinner.

I can excuse my self saying I’ve been sick, and still not back to running and working out full tilt, but the  ooey-gooey baked pasta dish from my family’s recipes is not going to help things along. Screwing with an Italian Grandma’s recipe, in case you didn’t know, is a food crime tantamount to putting ketchup on macaroni and calling it spaghetti with red sauce. It’s just not done. But I did.

Went to the market this morning, and challenged myself to find some substitutes to use that’ll save a few calories, and STILL make a gorgeous, cheesy, gooey pasta dish. There was also no way I was going to add any fake food to my dish, so no weird fat-free things were going in there. Grandma may still turn over in her grave, but at least she won’t be spinning at high speed. While this recipe still tips the scale at roughly over 450 calories per serving, using the recipe calculator over on the Livestrong website, the original recipe is closer to 875. Not exactly lo-cal, but not as great a food crime. Calorie-wise.

The cheeses are the big offenders when it comes to calories. First to go was the mozzarella; while provolone isn’t as stringy, it adds more taste and I can use less of it. It’s all about taste here. Same deal using Romano instead of Parmesan. Sheep’s milk cheese has a more robust flavor, so you can use less. Around here there are only 3 choices when it comes to ricotta: full fat, par skim, and fat free.  The part skim doesn’t save enough calories, and the fat free is, well, an abomination. It’s just plain gross. The little sausage meatballs in the original recipe were also yummy little calorie-bombs, and they had to go, too. Replacing them with lean ground beef, and upping the flavor ante with a little pepperoni keeps this whole dish from being too diety. Not that this is exactly diet food.

The last adjustment I made was to scale down the recipe. The original serves 14 - to 16 people. A normal sized Italian family dinner. As a second course. We are a household of 2, and I neither wanted to be eating this all month, or having to freeze huge portions since we are inching closer to the growing season and I need more room in the freezer, not less. Makes eight generous servings. —One night’s dinner, one night leftovers and four servings for the freezer in our house.

After all is said and done, I think my Grandma would have loved this.  She’d have eaten every bit on her plate and wiped up the sauce with a chunk of crusty bread. Then she’d give me a kiss. But never have actually admitted that it is really “Delizioso!”

We like our cheese brown,
see directions below for keeping it pale.

Grandma’s Turning in Her Grave Baked Ziti

1T. Olive oil
1 oz pepperoni, slivered
1 lb. 93% lean or leaner ground beef
8 oz. sliced mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup dry red wine
1 T. dried basil
1 T. dried oregano
Pinch of red pepper flakes or more to taste
Tiny pinch ground cloves (opt.)
1 cup dry red wine
6 cups (1.5 qts.) plain tomato sauce
8 oz. whole wheat or high fiber ziti or other chunky pasta shape
1 lb. 1% whipped cottage cheese (small curd will do)
2 oz. shredded pecorino  Romano cheese
2 lg. eggs
10 oz. baby spinach cooked and squeezed dry
Pinch of fresh grated nutmeg
½ tsp. garlic powder
Freshly ground black pepper
½ lb. sharp deli provolone, sliced

Bring a 6 quart or larger pot of well-salted water to a boil. In the meantime, in a large sauce pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, add the pepperoni and cook until it releases some of its own oil.

Add the ground beef and brown, then add the mushrooms and minced garlic. Stir well for a minute or two, then pour in the wine, and stir any stuck bits loose from the bottom of the pot. Add the herbs, pepper and cloves, if using. Pour in the tomato sauce  and mix well, bring to a simmer and let cook while the pasta cooks. The pasta water should be boiling, by now, so add the pasta and cook to al dente according to the package directions. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

While the pasta cooks and the sauce simmers, place the cottage cheese in a large bowl, and mix in everything except the provolone. When the pasta is cooked, turn off both the pasta and the sauce, drain the pasta, and add it to the cottage cheese mixture. Scoop about 1-1/2 cups of the sauce from the pot and set aside to serve at the table.

In a big, flat casserole dish, coat the bottom with just enough sauce to cover. Spoon in half of the pasta mixture, drop it in dabs all over the sauce and spread to fill the gaps. Do the same with half of the remaining meat sauce, then lay half of the provolone slices over the meat sauce. Repeat, ending with provolone on the top. If you don’t want the top brown, spray a piece of foil with cooking spray so the top cheese wont stick to it, and then cover the dish.  Bake for about an hour until all brown (if it’s uncovered) and bubbly. Let it stand about 5 minutes before serving.

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