The holiday season is all about friends, family, and delicious, make-ahead meals. After a grueling day of shopping is there anything nicer than sliding a casserole into the oven, putting your feet up in front of a crackling fire, and enjoying a glass of wine while the luscious aroma scents the room? Sounds good, doesn't it? This recipe takes a bit of time, but can be made up to two days ahead. Once baked it can be sliced and served in individual dishes with an Italian salad, slices of crusty bread, and a glass (or two) of your favorite red wine. Always welcomed by company, it freezes well, and keeps, frozen, for up to 6 months. If choosing this option, thaw in the fridge the night before and bake for ten minutes longer.
8 ounces ziti rigate (ridged) pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground chuck
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
¼ cup chopped parsley
1/3 cup pitted black olives, cut in half
Half of a10 oz. package of frozen chopped spinach, thawed
and squeezed dry
1 jar pasta sauce (I use Paul Newman’s Sockarooni)
¼ cup thinly sliced pepperoni
1 recipe Béchamel Sauce (see below)
1 8 oz. package grated mozzarella
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 400°F.
In a medium stock pot, cook pasta in boiling water until al dente. Save 1 cup of the pasta water before draining the pasta.
In a medium-size saucepot over medium-high heat the olive oil. Add ground chuck and onion, and cook until meat is browned and onion soft. During the last minutes of cooking, stir in chopped garlic. Remove from heat and stir in parsley, black olives, and spinach. Stir in pasta sauce until everything is well coated. If the mixture is too thick, stir in pasta water, ¼ cup at a time, until desired consistency is reached. The pasta mixture should not be watery, but not dry either. This is a judgment call here.
Transfer half of the pasta mixture to a 7” x 11” oven safe casserole dish. Cover the top with the slices of pepperoni, overlapping if need be, and then pour the rest of the mixture on top, spreading to the edges. Top with the béchamel sauce and sprinkle liberally with the cheeses. Bake for 35-40 minutes until hot and bubbly and the cheese begins to brown.
(Rachael Ray's Recipe)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 bay leaf
Freshly grated nutmeg
Place a medium-size saucepan over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the flour, stir to combine and cook for about a minute. Whisk in the milk, add the bay leaf and season with some salt, pepper and a couple of grates of nutmeg. Bring up to a bubble, turn the heat down to low and gently simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and discard.
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