If you are new to reading my blog perhaps you don’t know that I love the Saturday “Off Duty” section of the Wall Street journal. As most newspapers seem to have less than exciting food sections, Off Duty continues to surprise me every weekend with its recipes. I’ve written about them here, here, here, here and here. There’s always a few good food related articles, but I would have to say that my favorite column is called Slow Food Fast which includes a recipe from a restaurant chef who is featured for a few weeks. These recipes are for home cooks who don’t have all day to spend in the kitchen but want seasonal food with lots of flavor.
I decided to invite a few friends over for dinner at the last minute and this recipe is everything I love about easy entertaining-you probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry, the sauce for the pasta comes together in no time at all and you can make the dish ahead of time and pop it into the oven while you are having hors d’oeuvres. This is exactly what I did and rather than broiling the dish, I baked it at 375 for about a half hour. Serve with a salad, crusty bread and red wine. Serves 6-8
Baked Ziti With Lamb
1 pound dried ziti
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground lamb
½ pound ground beef
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 small bulb fennel, diced
1 (14-ounce) can crushed San Marzano tomatoes with juice and roughly chopped
1 teaspoon red chili flakes
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
¾ cup French feta, crumbled
¾ cup coarsely grated mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan, plus extra for topping
15 basil leaves, thinly sliced
15 mint leaves, thinly sliced
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add ziti and cook until just al dente. Strain pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking water.
2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Once hot, stir in lamb, beef, onions, garlic, carrots, celery and fennel, and sauté until meat is cooked through, about 7 minutes. Pour off all accumulated fat and set pot back over medium heat.
3. Stir in tomatoes, chili flakes, oregano, cumin and cinnamon. Season with salt to taste. Simmer until vegetables soften, about 20 minutes, adding splashes of hot water if dry. Stir in vinegar and simmer 5 minutes more.
4. Preheat broiler. Add cooked pasta and reserved cooking water to pot with ragù, stirring until evenly distributed. Turn off heat. In a small bowl, toss together feta, mozzarella and Parmesan. Stir ¾ mixed cheeses and ½ mint and basil into pasta.
5. Transfer everything to a large casserole dish. Top with remaining mixed cheeses and grate extra Parmesan over top to lightly cover. Slide casserole under broiler and cook until browned in spots, about 5 minutes. Garnish with remaining basil and mint.