Ziti al forno.
If I had to pick one food I can't stand, it might have to be pralines. I don't even know what a praline is. Is it a flavor? A nut? A type of sugar? All I know is that I used to like pralines and cream ice cream, and when my mom found out, she bought a crapload. For a while, there was always a new carton of pralines and cream in the freezer, until finally Jenny and I got so sick of the stuff that the same freezer-burned carton remained for years. And now, whenever I hear the word pralines, I kind of shudder.
But this post isn't about pralines. It's about ziti. Baked ziti. Just like too much of a good thing can make a good thing become a very, very bad thing, just the right amount can make a good thing become special.
Of all the foods that I've ever cooked for him, ziti al forno is Murdo's favorite. I can count on one hand how many times I've made this dish, and I can't even begin to count how many times he's asked me to make it. The first time was after he had the ziti al forno at Biaggi's. He asked me to recreate it, and a quick Google search for Biaggi's ziti al forno turned up a simple recipe. I wasn't sure if it really was Biaggi's actual recipe, since their menu describes the ziti baked in a lobster cream sauce. The recipe I found had no mention of lobster. But I tried it anyway. And I can't remember the last time we went back to Biaggi's.
One of the reasons I don't make this dish very often is because it calls for ingredients I don't often have on hand. And I have to measure stuff when I make it, and I hate dirtying more dishes than I have to. Plus, it makes a ton. But I decided to make it last Friday because I had the day off and I had the time and why not? It's been a while.
This ziti is rich and creamy; the prosciutto adds a salty bite and the shrimp adds a sweet, tender touch. I added peas for a burst of vegetable and color. And look! I've got the recipe to share with you!
Ziti al Forno
adapted from Biaggi's, courtesy of The News & Observer
1 pound ziti
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup red onion, diced
4 ounces prosciutto, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, diced
8 ounces shrimp, tail-off, peeled and deveined, cut in half
1 cup frozen peas (optional)
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
3-4 scallions, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9- by 13-inch baking dish and set aside.
Boil ziti in a large pot of salted water according to package directions, checking for doneness about 2 minutes before the time called for. Drain and set aside.
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onions and prosciutto. Saute until onions are lightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and chicken, and saute until chicken is about halfway done, about 3 minutes. Add shrimp and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until shrimp are just done, about 3 minutes.
Deglaze pan with wine. Cook until liquid is reduced by half, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cream and cook until reduced by 1/4, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add frozen peas. Stir in the Parmesan and scallions. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Stir in the cooked ziti. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring to prevent the pasta from sticking. Transfer pasta and sauce into prepared baking dish. Top with the shredded mozzarella. Bake until lightly browned, 15 to 20 minutes.
Makes 8 servings. (I halved this recipe and had enough to feed 2, plus 3 servings of leftovers.)