Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Baked ziti with sausage for a crowd in the wilderness

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Every year over Memorial Day weekend, our friends Rachel and Eric gather seven or eight families for a camping trip on their property near Santa Barbara. They call it "glamping" - tents and sleeping bags are involved, but so are executive port-a-potties, a dishwashing sink, an outdoor shower, a gas barbeque, and a whole lot of good food and wine. Glamorous indeed, or at least as glamorous as it can be when you're sleeping on air mattresses on the grass.

However, I don't camp. Categorically. It's my line in the sand and I'm sticking to it. I'm from Long Island. Call me a princess and I'll own up. Too old to go outside in the middle of the night to pee. Too fussy to go three days without a proper shower. I. Don't. Camp.

Fortunately, I am married to a man who thinks my refusal to camp is one of my best qualities. Unfortunately, our kids would love to go camping. I keep telling them that they need to make friends with kids whose parents do like to camp. They are welcome to go camping with anyone else's parents. But we're not going.

Fortunately again, Rachel and Eric's group is willing to let us come up for a day during the weekend and pretend we're part of the camping posse. They didn't even make fun of us this year (to our faces, at least). Because I've discovered that the more delicious food I bring with us, the happier they are to see us arrive, and the less they care that when bedtime rolls around we're getting into our car and driving back down the coast to our comfy beds in L.A.

Families take turns supplying the meals for the weekend. This year we drew lunch duty. Lunch for 40 people - luckily, that doesn't scare me. The baked ziti I made drew compliments and held everyone over until dinner. At which point, three roasted turkeys emerged from La Caja China, and mashed potatoes and gravy appeared on the barbeque. These people really know how to camp.

The recipe below feeds 8-10 people. Multiply accordingly.

Baked ziti with sausage
  • 2 lbs ziti or other short tubular pasta
  • 1 lb mild Italian sausage (I'm partial to the house-made chicken Italian sausage from Bob's Market in Santa Monica, but any Italian-style sausage will do)
  • 1 box frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
  • 1/2 cup pesto sauce (prepared or homemade)
  • 2 cups tomato sauce (prepared or homemade)
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan, romano or grana padano cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the ziti and cook until al dente. It's important to keep the pasta on the undercooked side, because you're going to cook it again in the oven, and you don't want it to turn to mush. Drain the pasta and turn it into a large mixing bowl.

Put the sausages on a foil-lined sheet pan and slide the pan into the oven. Cook until the sausages are cooked through; the time will vary depending on how thick your sausages are, but somewhere between 20 minutes and half an hour should do. Cut one sausage open to make sure it's cooked inside. Let the sausages cool at least 10 minutes. Slice the sausages into chunks and add them to the pasta. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.

Squeeze as much water out of the defrosted spinach as you can. Add the spinach to the bowl with the pasta and sausage.

In another mixing bowl, whisk together the pesto, tomato sauce, ricotta, salt and pepper until smooth. Add this mixture and 1 cup of the shredded mozzarella to the bowl with the pasta. Toss everything to coat the pasta well.

Turn the pasta mixture into a casserole dish that's been coated with cooking spray. Top with the remaining mozzarella and the grated parmesan. Bake the ziti uncovered 30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the whole thing is hot and gooey.

Here's the great thing about baked ziti: You can assemble it ahead of time and let it sit in the refrigerator for up to three days before baking. You can even assemble it and put it in the freezer. Or you can bake it and then put it in the freezer. Also, everyone loves it.


Kim at Rustic Garden Bistro said...

I heart baked ziti!

And, I'm not much of a "camper," either. In fact, the last we "camped," it was in a motor home with full hook-ups at Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara. During the day, we went wine tasting. At night, we cooked a steak, then watched two seasons' worth of "24" on DVD. For me, THAT is camping. ;-)

Daniela Galarza said...

the post in which you own up to being a princess! though, i think princesses consider cooking a chore, so i suppose your dedication to the kitchen absolves you. and this ziti looks tasty!

Erika Kerekes said...

Yeah, I retain a few Long Island princess qualities, I'm afraid. No camping. Pretty shoes. Diamonds, gold and pearls. And I'd much rather pay someone else to clean my house. On the other hand, as you pointed out, I cook. And I can fix the garbage disposal, change the hose on my hand-held shower, and carry my own bike up the front steps. So I guess it's a mixed bag.

Amanda said...

I love that this has spinach and pesto in it!

marla {family fresh cooking} said...

OK this is why I love you and your honesty! I. DON'T. CAMP. either. Us Long Island princesses need to stick together! Camp Blogaway is as close as I get to roughing it. Lovely ziti, the artisan sausage sounds wonderful!!


Oh Erika ~ this makes me belly laugh! I am a princess too - and in fact, people refer to me as 'princess' to my face and I totally own up. But I have/would camp so does that mean I lose my princess status? ;o)

And the baked Ziti? I know why your friends include you in camping every year but if they ever ban you, let me know 'cuz I'd welcome you to Indiana any day!!

Erika Kerekes said...

@Smith - if you camp, you are not a true princess, at least not of the Long Island variety (as Marla and I can attest). Perhaps there is a different strain of princess out there in the midwest.

Perry P. Perkins said...

I love Ziti, and this recipe looks awesome!


Perry P. Perkins
"La Caja China Cooking"
"La Caja China World"

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