|Baked pasta and my Big Fat Italian Belly after eating it - Photo by Wasabi Prime|
Seriously. Just post a giant plate of spaghetti and meatballs and people go nuts! And rightly so. It was the favorite childhood dish for many. It was my first introduction to Italian food, despite its highly Americanized lineage. I can't resist a plate of pasta and red sauce, it's my Kryptonite and I know I'm not alone, hence its blog-worthy draw. This baked ziti with spicy Italian sausage was like a grown-up version of spaghetti and meatballs. I was having a long week, lots of deadlines and not much time to fuss over meal prep, which is often the precursor to making a meal of pure comfort bliss. I fully believe there's a subconscious Comfort Food Gnome that lives in our brains; it ensures that we always have the base ingredients handy in our kitchens, at all times. At any given moment, I always have a box of pasta in the pantry, along with a can or two of crushed tomatoes. And garlic -- there's always garlic. That Comfort Food Gnome in my brain makes sure these basics are never absent from our kitchen, so that a plate of pasta with a garlic-heavy red sauce is always at my fingertips. I'm sure everyone's Comfort Food Brain-Gnome makes sure there's crucial ingredients available in kitchens everywhere. We can credit this gnome for making sure our pantry is never without peanut butter and a clean spoon.
I did have one bright, shiny ingredient I was excited to have, some fresh Italian sausage from Bill the Butcher. It was one of those impulse buys -- I was picking up some other things for a recipe I was developing and I saw two lone Italian sausages sitting on the tray, like orphaned puppies, needing a home. Don't worry, I don't bake orphaned puppies in pasta with cheese, but these spiced links o' meat needed to be showcased in something simple but wonderful. I did a pan-sear on these puppies (har-har) to get some color, and then sautéed some chopped garlic in the pan with olive oil and threw in a big can of chopped tomatoes with some dried oregano and salt/pepper to taste -- pretty basic. I had another pot of salted water boiling to cook the pasta, just below al dente, since I knew they would continue to cook in the oven. I sliced the seared sausages -- they were still raw in the center, which was fine since the oven would finish them -- and I tossed the slices with the pasta and the sauce before getting them into a baking dish. I put a healthy blanket of shaved Parmesan over everything and put it into a preheated oven. Comfort Meal Heaven. It made life worth living that week, let me tell you.