I'm not sure if this is a universal statement or not, but when I go back to school, my stress level skyrockets. The amount of time I have for planning and creating elaborate meals shrinks, and I pretty much just want to curl up in a ball and have somebody take care of everything for me. Since I don't live in fantasy land, I have to make due with what I can. I think this semester I'm really going to try making quasi-healthy cooking a priority so that I don't get on the train to Bloatsville, USA.
Since Keith and I have been pretty good in terms of healthy eating, I decided to reward us with some good old fashioned comfort food. Baked ziti was probably my favorite thing to order off of the Italian take-out menu before lactose intolerance, but I haven't even attempted to re-create it since the dairy-ban. Pasta puttanesca is actually kind of a recent discovery for me, but I love it so much I would probably eat it every day if there were no consequences. The forthcoming recipe is an attempt at merging these two things together. I used my favorite puttanesca recipe from "Never Enough Thyme," although I have to cut the anchovy paste out of the recipe if I want Keith to eat it too. I used some really nice italian pasta called Pennoni, similar to a penne rigate, but you can use any pasta you like. And as always, my recipes are dairy free, but just switch out the non-dairy ingredients for real cheese if you want to try a more decadent version. Adding cheese to puttanesca sauce and baking it may be the biggest bastardization of real Italian cooking you can come up with (other than Chef Boyardee,) but Keith and I both agreed that these flavors were really outstanding together.
Baked Pasta Puttanesca
3/4 lb pasta (ziti, rigatoni, etc.)
about 1&1/2 tbsp minced garlic
1/4 to 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (depending on how spicy you like it)
28z can whole tomatoes
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
2 tbsp capers
about 10 leaves of fresh basil, chopped
8 oz of non-dairy mozzarella cheese shreds *(see note below)
Preheat your oven to 375º. Spritz a 2 qt. rectangular casserole with some olive oil spray and set aside. Cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente according to package directions.
In the meantime, heat a drizzle of olive oil in a large frying pan or skillet over medium. Add your minced garlic and crushed red pepper and cook until fragrant. Add the juice from the can of tomatoes, then add the tomatoes themselves, crushing each one individually in your hands to break them apart as you add them (be careful! They squirt!)
Steamin' up the lens
Add the olives and capers to the sauce and stir to combine. Allow the sauce to come to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and allow it to cook down for about 10 minutes (until it isn't watery.) Turn off the heat and add the basil.
Drain the cooked pasta and add it to the sauce in the pan, allowing it to soak up the flavor. Toss Gently to combine.
Layer half of your pasta mixture on the bottom of the casserole. Add half of your shredded "cheese", distributing evenly over the pasta. Add the remaining pasta to the casserole, and top with the rest of the cheese.
Cover the casserole with foil and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes.
*On the "cheese": Wow, there sure are a lot of non-dairy cheeses available on the market now! This particular time around, I used mozzarella flavored Daiya shreds, and it made the pasta very gooey and cheesy. However, I have used Veggie Shreds brand in another pasta casserole in the past, and I may actually prefer those in this particular application. The Veggie Shreds seem to mix into the pasta and retain a lot of stretchiness, while the Daiya shreds leave a "snowy" looking layer on top and become rather gooey. I do like gooey cheese, but in a casserole it might be nice to have something with a little more body. This of course comes down to personal preference, and if by chance you are going for a vegan version of this dish, the Veggie Shreds are not among the options for you.