Cookbook review: Lidia’s Favorite Recipes
This hearty ziti and sausage dinner layers flavors of Italian sausage, onion, fennel bulb, crushed red pepper, tomato, and Parmesan deliciously. It's adapted from 'Lidia’s Favorite Recipes.'
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1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheeseSkip to next paragraph
Terry Boyd is the author of Blue Kitchen, a Chicago-based food blog for home cooks. His simple, eclectic cooking focuses on fresh ingredients, big flavors and a cheerful willingness to borrow ideas and techniques from all over the world. A frequent contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, his recipes have also appeared on the Bon Appétit and Saveur websites.
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Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt generously and add ziti. Cook until not quite al dente, about 2 minutes less than recommended cooking time. Drain, reserving 2 cups of pasta water. Do not rinse (see Kitchen Notes). Set aside.
While the water comes to a boil and the pasta cooks, assemble the other ingredients. If the sausage is not bulk, remove from casings and break the meat up with your fingers. Using a sharp knife, slice off the root end of the fennel bulb and the stalks with the fronds. Reserve the stalks and fronds. Slice the bulb in half lengthwise and peel off the tough outer layer. Cut out the inner core and slice the bulb halves lengthwise into about 1/4-inch slices. You’ll probably end up with more than the 2 cups you need. You can save it for another use or go ahead and have a little more fennel in this dish.
Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet with high sides – I used a sauté pan – over medium flame. Add the sausage and cook for 1-1/2 to 2 minutes, breaking the meat up more with a wooden spoon. Push the sausage to the sides of the pan and add the onion in the center. Cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes, then mix the onion and the sausage together. Create a hole in the middle again and add the fennel. Cook for a minute or so, stirring occasionally, then mix with the meat and onions. Season lightly with salt and then clear yet another hole. Add the crushed red pepper and toast for about 30 seconds. Toss to combine and make one final hole. Add the tomato paste and cook until just sizzling, 1 or 2 minutes, mashing it with the back of a wooden spoon.
Ladle in 1-1/2 cups of the reserved pasta water. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer the sauce for 5 to 6 minutes. Flavors will develop, the sauce will thicken slightly and the fennel will soften a bit (you want it to remain slightly crunchy, so don’t overcook).
Add the pasta to the pan. It will be sticking together, but don’t be alarmed. As you gently toss it with the sauce, much of it will loosen up on its own. With the more stubborn pairs of tubes, insinuate the edge of a spatula between them, and they will separate. Cook for 2 minutes or so to let the pasta absorb some of the sauce and finish cooking. Add the fennel fronds and toss to combine. If the dish is seeming a bit too dry, drizzle on a little more pasta water and mix it in.
Remove the pan from the heat, sprinkle the grated cheese over the pasta and toss it in. Serve immediately in shallow pasta bowls.
I like ziti. For years, our go-to tubular pasta has been penne. But with its ridged sides, it can be thick and chewy. This recipe is the first time I’ve cooked with ziti, and I have to say, I love its thinner walls.
Starch is good. You often hear the reason to not rinse pasta is that the starch from the cooking water helps the sauce stick to it. That’s the case with this dish in letters five miles high. When you plate the pasta, there will be no sauce to speak of left in the skillet. It’s all clinging to the pasta, sausage and vegetables, not so much a sauce as a flavorful coating.
Related post on Blue Kitchen: Beef and pork ragu: A hearty, meaty meal for yet another chilly weekend
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