Elise posted 7 tips for photographing babies this morning and the second I read her blog post title, I wished it was slightly different.
Elise, I thought, I don’t have a baby. I have casseroles.
Casseroles get a bad reputation, but when done right, they’re the best go-to dinners. They can be made in advance, or they can be frozen, and if need be, they can be an all-in-one meal. There are some nights where our vegetable is in that 9 x 13 pan, right along with our meat and our starch, and that’s the best I can do for dinner. I love casseroles.
They are a beast to photograph, though.
No matter how wonderful they taste, and this one ranks right up there, they typically end up looking like blobs and gloop on a plate.
And that’s quite tragic, if you think about it, because when you see the pictures for this post, I don’t know that you’ll want to make Dinner, a Love Story’s baked ziti, and that would certainly be your loss. I don’t always think of casseroles as weeknight fare, because there are often multiple steps, pans, and layers that go into the work of just one dish. But, in her ever-efficient manner, Jenny figured out how to get baked ziti made in just about one pan. Seriously. Not to mention she packs her casserole with mushrooms and spinach, so it doesn’t feel quite as indulgent, as say, lasagna.
To make ziti for a crowd, you will need:
- 1/2 pound ziti
- 1 1/2 C crushed tomatoes (I used 1, 15 oz. can)
- 1/2 C shredded Fontina
- 1/2 C shredded ricotta salata (though I had mozzarella, so that’s what I used)
- 1 C baby spinach, chopped (I used way more…probably 3 C)
- 8 shakes oregano
- 2 T butter
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- shake of red pepper flakes
- 3 C mushrooms, sliced
- 2 links sweet Italian sausage, casings removed (whoops, I didn’t read this and used 4…that was a lot of meat)
- pinch of salt and pepper
- 1 T all-purpose flour
- 2 T tomato paste
- 2 C whole milk (I used 2%)
- 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
- 1/2 C plain breadcrumbs
- 1 T olive oil (I totally left this out–one less step)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
In a large saucepan, bring 3 quarts salted water to a boil, add the pasta, and cook for about 8 minutes. (The pasta will finish cooking during baking.) Drain the pasta well and rinse with cold water.
In a deep baking dish, combine the pasta, tomatoes, cheeses, spinach, and oregano.
In a large saucepan (like that one you just cooked the pasta in), melt the butter over low heat and add the garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sausage (breaking up the links with a fork or wooden spoon) and the salt and pepper. Cook until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes.
Add the flour to the mushroom-sausage mixture and cook, stirring continually for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste, milk, and nutmeg. Bring to a boil, whisking, and simmer for 30 seconds. Pour the sauce over the pasta in the baking dish. In a separate bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and oil. Sprinkle over the pasta and bake for 30 minutes.
*If you want to make this in advance, skip the preheating, and prepare all the way through sprinkling the breadcrumbs on the dish. Cover tightly with a lid or with foil (or both!), and freeze or refrigerate.