Sunday, January 26, 2014

Beefy Rigatoni Pasta Bake

The last two weeks - and the upcoming week - have been very interesting to me from a culinary standpoint. A tough financial month - just going to say it - I have had to get creative in the kitchen and use the goodies in my cupboards and freezer to make dinners and lunches (which have become both).  This is one a several dishes that came together in a happy evening of culinary exploration and adventure.  Minus the adventure part because it turned out very well; but adventure sounds good, don't you think?  With a pound of hamburger, a bag of rigatoni pasta, pantry spices and eggs - yes eggs - I put together a meal that Rachael Ray calls a "BLD", a breakfast, lunch and dinner meal.  Ergo the eggs. Here's my starting line-up:

1 or more pounds of ground beef (I use lean ground sirloin)
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 baby sweet peppers, finely chopped (love these!)
1.5 tablespoons Italian seasoning, half tablespoon separated
1.5 tablespoons paprika, half tablespoon separated
2 teaspoons dried basil 
2 teaspoons dried oregano
salt and pepper, plus a good two tablespoons or so for the pasta water
1 teaspoons cumin (seed or powder) I love the smoky warmth it adds
1.5 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes (I love Cento!)
1 tablespoon tomato paste 
1 pound bag of rigatoni pasta
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
extra virgin olive oil1/4 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese
1 cup mozzarella cheese 
*Quite optional:  6 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Saute the vegetables in the olive oil in a high-sided pot over medium-high heat until the onions become just barely translucent with salt and pepper.  Move the veg to the sides of the pot and add one pound or more of ground beef. Brown the beef and incorporate the vegetables when that is done. Add the cans of crushed tomatoes and all but the separated parts of the dry spices and seasoning.  Incorporate well.  Add half a cup or so of water and stir well, bringing the mixture to a boil. Simmer on low heat for thirty or more minutes.  The longer you allow the sauce to simmer the more flavorful the marriage of the ingredients becomes. 

Fifteen minutes before the sauce will be done, boil the pasta water and liberally salt when the water boils.  Add the bag of rigatoni and cook just before al dente, or just before it is done.  Save half a cup of the starchy pasta water and add it to the sauce.  This will thicken it up a little and help the sauce stick to the pasta.  Drain the pasta and set the colander on a plate on the counter next to a 9 x 13 baking pan or dish that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Add a thin layer of the sauce to the bottom, then spoon over that a good layer of rigatoni.  Add a layer of the sauce - a more hearty layer - and add half of the mozzarella and half of the parm cheeses.  Repeat this process with the remainder of the pasta, sauce and cheeses.

To make this a true BLD dish, I made a little well in six places before adding the top layer.  Then I topped that with the thin layer of cheese, and then with the rest of the pasta and sauce.  I am quite sure most folks would not do this, but trust me, if you do, you will not regret it. 

Add the remaining dry ingredients to the cup of Panko bread crumbs and mix together.  Top the mixture in the baking pan with it and drizzle extra virgin olive oil atop the bread crumbs. 

Place the completed baking pan into the oven, which should be set to 400 degrees.  Bake for 20 minutes.  The top will become crispy and brown and the aroma will fill your kitchen with pure delight. Remove, allow to cool and set for fifteen minutes before serving.  The cheeses will hold together the pasta so you should be able to remove neat little squares onto a dish and into lunch containers.  

Note: I did not wait like I mentioned above - my lesson learned - so my plated square began to fall apart. What can I say?  I was hungry!!!

You can see an egg, right corner.  Trust me, this is good. But of course, if you think that is just wrong, leave it out!  No worries!  Make recipes your own, which is much of the fun of cooking!

Thank You, gentle readers. for your time and consideration!