Recipe Files: Spinach Baked Ziti

Please forgive the terrible pic, but the pasta was steaming hot, and it kept fogging up my camera!

Please forgive the terrible pic, but the pasta was steaming hot, and it kept fogging up my camera!

I am so sad, y’all! Our local Krispy Kreme had a fire recently and will not be reopening in the near future. According to the company, they are currently looking for a new building space to relocate (hopefully nearby and hopefully soon!) AND if that wasn’t bad enough, now our Dunkin Donuts is closed for renovations and when they re-open they will no longer have the Baskin-Robbins half of the store!!!!! What is the world coming to? My all-time favorite ice cream ever is Baskin-Robbins peanut butter and chocolate. It’s the only brand that does the whole peanut butter and chocolate ice cream correctly. Everyone else does either vanilla ice cream with a fudge swirl or adds in chunks of Reese’s cups. Travesties, I tell you. Baskin-Robbins knows to rely on just their delicious chocolate goodness of an ice cream with real swirls of peanut butter throughout. It’s the best ever. And I just want to cry that I won’t be able to get it anymore!

Add on to that that my car is in the shop for what I’m sure will not be a cheap repair (because when are they ever?) and that my legs have been tight and cramping for several days, and this week is just so much less than awesome!

On days like this, let’s be honest. Only good comfort food will do! So, since I can’t have doughnuts or ice cream (!), it’ll have to be something good for dinner. Which brings me to one of my favorite baked pastas. It’s tasty, fairly easy to throw together, and gives good a comforting feel to your meal without being too terrible for you! A serving of spinach baked ziti with a little salad is perfect for pretty much any night, especially when you need something hearty to fill up that emptiness in your heart … I’m looking at you, owner of our local DD/BR store!

 

Spinach Baked Ziti

This recipe makes 6 servings, each serving being around 450 calories apiece (depending on your brands of ingredients). It takes about one hour from start to finish.

To begin, you’ll need:

  • 1 lb of whole wheat ziti (penne and rotini pasta work well too)
  • 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes
  • 8 oz can of tomato sauce
  • 1 t. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 8-10 oz fresh baby spinach leaves, chopped
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 1 T dried basil (Of course, you can use fresh herbs as desired.)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 oz ricotta cheese (either part-skim or fat-free)
  • 1/4 c Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 c. mozzarella cheese, shredded, separated

Start by preheating your oven to 375 degrees and spraying a 9×13 baking dish with Pam or another nonstick cooking spray. Cook your pasta according to package directions.  While the pasta is cooking, add the olive oil to a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Next, add your spinach, crushed tomatoes, and tomato sauce to the pan. Salt and pepper to taste. As the spinach wilts, add the basil and oregano. Let this simmer for about 5 minutes. Then, in either the saute pan or a large bowl, combine the pasta and sauce. Add the ricotta, the Parmesan, and one cup of the mozzarella to the pasta. Stir to combine. Pour this mixture into your baking dish and top with the remaining mozzarella cheese. Bake for around 25 minutes, until the top starts to brown. Then enjoy!

This recipe is based on the original found here, from skinnytaste.com.

*Linking up this week with parties at Couponing & Cooking (Mealtime Monday), The Mandatory Mooch (Tasty Thursdays), and I Heart Nap Time (Sundae Scoop). Do visit these guys to get more great cooking ideas!

Recipe Files: Pizza Margherita

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What better way to enjoy a cool spring evening than to dine out on your porch with a tasty meal and a bottle of wine? It’s a great way to relax from the pressures of the day and just enjoy some quite together time with your spouse, kids, friends, yourself… whoever you’ve managed to wrangle for dinner. Maybe take a nice walk around the neighborhood after dinner, as the sun is going down. Enjoy watching the the birds, squirrels, and rabbits hop around the yards. Spring is just such a great time to sit back and enjoy what the world has to offer.

That in mind, as I was writing this week’s Wine Wednesday post, I was reminded again of all those fabulous meals we had Italy last year and thought I should share with you guys one of my new favorite recipes that I started making after our trip and that would be great to assemble for your “al fresco” dinner- Pizza Margheritas!

Pizza Margheritas were created in Naples and are as simple as pizza can get. Just some tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. That’s it. And it’s perfection when done right!

To start, you’ll need the perfect crust. (*Note: You will want to start this in the morning so that it has time to rise and fall.) And here’s how you can get that-

You’ll need:

  • 3/4 c plus 1/8 c warm water
  • 1/2 T olive oil
  • 1 t salt
  • 3/4 t yeast
  • 3/4 t sugar
  • 2 and 1/8 c all-purpose flour

Add the warm water to a large bowl, then mix in the oil, salt, yeast, and sugar. Stir everything to combine, but it’s not a problem if everything hasn’t dissolved. Add the flour until combined into a ball of dough. You may need to add some extra water depending on the humidity of your house and/or the weather. The last couple of time I’ve done this, I’ve added probably another 1/8 c of water to keep my dough from breaking apart.

Once the ingredients have been mixed, loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough sit at room temperature for about 2 hours. The dough will rise, but there is no need to knead it or punch it. Once it has been sitting for those 2 hours, place it into the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Unused dough will keep, tightly covered, in the fridge for at least a week.

This recipe will give you enough dough for 2 regular crust (Neapolitan-style) pizzas, 4 cracker-thin crust (Roman-style) pizzas, or 1 thick crust (Sicilian-style) pizza. We usually opt for the 4 cracker thin crusts, but occasionally we’ll do 2 thin crusts one night and 1 regular crust with the leftover dough another night. The cracker-thin crust will give you a single serve pizza. The regular crust will give you a pizza big enough for two people to share. And I haven’t tried the thick crust, but it’s supposed to serve four.

About 45 minutes before baking, take the dough out of the fridge and pull the amount of dough you’ll be needing from the bowl. For a cracker-thin crust, use about 4 oz (a peach-sized ball); for a regular-style crust, use about 8 oz (an orange-sized ball); for a thick crust, use the entire ball of dough. Stretch and tuck your dough into a smooth ball and place it onto a floured work surface. Let it sit, loosely covered for about 45 minutes.

Once the dough has rested, generously flour your work surface and begin stretching out your dough. I usually start with my hands and once I have a small circle patted out, then I bring in a floured rolling pin to continue rolling the dough out. Flip the dough occasionally as you stretch it out and make sure to keep adding flour if it is sticking. Keep stretching until the dough is about 12 inches across (as circular as you can get it, ha). This will make for a very thin dough if you are doing the thin crust, but don’t worry, it turns out great. Once it’s stretched out, gently place it onto a pizza pan that has been brushed with olive oil. (You can absolutely use a pizza stone with this as well, just make sure to heat it in the the preheated oven and dust it with flour before placing the pizza on it.)

For a delicious sauce, all you’ll need is one 28-oz can of whole plum tomatoes and a good 1/8 c (more or less) of Italian seasoning. Begin by pureeing the tomatoes in a blender or food processor. Then place the pureed tomatoes into a medium pan over medium heat on your stove. Add in the seasoning and being to a simmer. Lower the heat to medium-low, and let simmer for 1 to 1 and 1/2 hours. The sauce will thicken and reduce quite a bit. But it will still be enough to cover 2 thin crust pizzas.

Once the sauce has thickened, simply spread it onto your prepared (unbaked) dough. Then add the rest of your toppings. For pizza Margheritas, I simply add about 6 or 7 oz of sliced mozzarella cheese (for one thin crust) and 2 to 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil. If you want real Italian style pizza, drizzle just a few drops of olive oil over the pizza just before placing it in the oven.

Bake according to these directions: Preheat oven to 550 degrees and place your pizza pan or stone on the very bottom rack in your oven. For thin crust pizzas, bake 5-7 minutes on a pizza stone or 8-12 minutes on a pizza pan. For the regular crust pizzas, bake for 8-10 minutes on a pizza stone or 13-15 minutes on a pizza pan. For the thick crust pizza, bake at 500 degrees for 20-25 minutes on a stone or 25-30 minutes on a pan.

All that’s left now is to enjoy! And remember, especially with the thin crusts, Italians enjoy their pizza with a knife and fork, so you’ll definitely want to use those.

*This recipe has been adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine.

*Linking up this week with parties at Couponing & Cooking (Mealtime Monday), The Mandatory Mooch (Tasty Thursdays), and I Heart Nap Time (Sundae Scoop).