Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Recipe Improvisation: Mexican Baked Ziti

Although lots of people do, I don't really cook without a recipe. Since I went part-time and have been the primary cook in the family, my frequency of cooking and menu planning has helped me relax and see recipes as helpful parameters within which experimentation sometimes works.

Blah, blah, blah. What I actually want to say is that I found myself faced with some ingredients I needed/wanted to use and modified a recipe into something rather successful. While no one would call it a huge leap, the result satisfied me and my primary customers.

I had:
  1. Cottage cheese that was nearing its "use by" date
  2. Chorizo from a pretty new Mexican grocery/carniceria in one of our favorite Pittsburgh eating neighborhoods
  3. Fresh cilantro from the same.
I modified an Italian baked ziti recipe with sausage to use these ingredients. If I were doing it again, I might try to find some Mexican cheeses to substitute for the Italian cheeses I had on hand. Parmesan and Mozzarella were plenty yummy, but authentic cheese might make the dish more unique. Not that baked ziti needs a strict recipe under any circumstances, but the resulting recipe would look something like this:

2-3 T. olive oil
1 lg. onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. chorizo
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 C. dry red wine (I used cheap burgundy cooking wine)
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 T chili powder
1.5 T cumin (spice measurements very approximate)
1 C. cottage cheese
1 C. grated parmesan
1/3 C. chopped fresh cilantro
1 lb. ziti
1/2 lb. mozzarella, cubed

Preheat oven to 425. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish. In a large skillet, heat about 2 T. olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and loose (not in casing) sausage, saute till sausage begins to brown. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Drain fat if necessary. Add wine, let boil until almost gone. Add tomatoes. Cook uncovered, at lively simmer, for about 10 minutes. Sauce will thicken slightly. Add chili powder and cumin. In large bowl, mix cottage cheese, half the parmesan and cilantro. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Meanwhile, cook ziti til al dente. Drain well and toss with cottage cheese mixture. Add sausage and sauce and mix again. Add mozzarella and toss gently. Pour into baking dish and sprinkle with remaining parmesan. Bake uncovered till lightly browned and bubbling, about 20 minutes.

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