“Since hunger is the most primitive and permanent of human wants, men always want to eat, but since their wish not to be a mere animal is also profound, they have always attended with special care to the manners which conceal the fact that at the table we are animals feeding.” - John Erskine

18 February 2012

the quest for the best baked penne

quest [kwest]: an adventurous expedition undertaken to secure or achieve something

Isn’t the idea of a quest romantic?  It inspires images of castles, swords, shining armor, Sir Galahad, the Holy Grail and la belle dame sans merci... Just to name a few.
What can I say?  For the sake of February and romance I have embarked on my own quest.  Yes, I am on a quest.  For what am I questing, you query.  For the best ever baked penne and/or ziti recipe.  Or if not the best ever, at least a great one.  (But you already knew that didn’t you, because you read the title of today’s blog.  You are really quite a smarty pants.  Thats one of the things I like about you.)  So how is my quest going?  So far, not so good.  I’ve had baked penne/ziti that I thought was great, but not recently, and I can’t remember who made it to ask for the recipe.  Last one I tried had ricotta cheese, which I am quickly deciding just doesn’t work on the palettes of my little animals.  They just won’t eat anything with the stuff in it and I’m tired of throwing food away.  So the next recipe in the search for pasta perfection is this one, from BarbaraBakes.com.

Baked Penne
16 ounces penne pasta
4 cups prepared spaghetti sauce (jarred or homemade)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion chopped
1 pound ground beef
15 ounces ricotta cheese
¼ cup parsley, finely chopped
1 egg, slightly beaten
¾ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese
½ cup parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350°.  Cook the pasta according to package directions, drain.

In a large frying pan, sauté onion in olive oil until transparent.  Add the ground beef and cook until no longer pink, drain.  Stir in the ricotta, parsley, egg, salt, pepper and 2 cups of the spaghetti sauce.  Add cooked pasta and toss to coat.

Put pasta mixture into a greased 13×9 baking pan and cover with the remaining spaghetti sauce.  Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.  Bake for 30 minutes or until cheese begins to brown.

Easy enough, right?  This recipe came with its own homemade version of sauce (check out the website if you’re interested) which I intended to use, but I was too grumpy.  I find myself very grumpy while cooking lately.  Too many hours in the Jeep ~ carpool, piano lessons, parent teacher conferences (which somehow NEVER seem to be convenient for the parents), scouts, the gym... you get the point.  I just haven’t wanted to be spending any time cooking.  Thus the lack of posts lately.  Me + cooking this month = lots of frozen stuff.  It has inspired me to try out more freezer meal recipes next month... but I digress.

I was about to tell you that I used this instead of the homemade stuff.  Maybe that would have made a difference...?  I also swapped out cottage cheese for the ricotta (see above) and used this instead of the parsley (I can’t help myself ~ Chef Tess’s spice blends are truly a wonder) and skipped the salt and pepper.  I mixed mozzarella into the noodle mixture, as well as sprinkling some on top.  Hey, the cheesier the better is one of our mottos around here.

It tasted... ok.  There seemed to be so little hamburger in it that I felt like I wasted a pound of ground beef.  The cheese was good, but there seemed to be little flavor otherwise.  I think I’m getting tired of the Classico, too.  Maybe I’ll buy some Prego just to mix things up.  (I have never found a homemade sauce recipe that I like as well as store-bought.  Maybe another reason I wanted to try the homemade but opted out.)  My husband and the boys liked it ~ even Littlest gave it a thumbs up.  So maybe this is a good baked penne recipe, and it’s just my taster (what my mom calls her flavor sense) that’s off.  But for now, the quest goes on...

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