Valentine’s Day Special!: Baked Penne alla Marinara (The Sexy Version)

First of all, I want to give a shout out to all the people who have commented or liked his blog either on this website or on Facebook. Your comments really mean a lot to me, and they have indeed convinced me to continue blogging! Unfortunately, the one disadvantage to living in a college dorm is that I don’t really much to time to cook up new meals, so bear with me as I try to get a little creative and resurrect some old recipes and pictures that I have lying within the labrynitian maze that is my computer. This first recipe is my riff on an Italian-American favorite, Baked Ziti except that my baked Penne alla Marinara is without a doubt one sexy creation. I originally designed this recipe to be an application for my Homemade Marinara Sauce recipe, but let’s just say I got lazy and forgot to add it in. Furthermore, I’m pretty sure that when you look at the picture, your probably going to be like “Umm this does not look baked to me”, and I know it isn’t because once again I got too LAZY TO TAKE A PICTURE OF THE FINISHED PRODUCT! So this picture, was sent into my photo archives and doomed to remain there forever until just recently, I took a look at it and was frankly taken in by the beauty of it all. I mean it’s just so raw, so untouched by the sweltering heat of the oven. The penne is just perfectly smothered in my delicious marinara sauce at a proportion which might seem to be too much at first, but after a 10-15 minutes in the oven, it’s just right. The top of the dish is encapsulated in thick, rich and milky slices of fresh, not packaged mozzarella, and vividly green, fresh basil leaves, which while yes they brown up in the oven, the taste of crunchy basil is beyond divine, an absolute must try for any foodie, and eater for that matter. Gently laced with a shaving of Parmigiano Reggiano, and like Ina Garten would say, “good olive oil”, this dish has the potential to be whatever it wants to be, even though it seems as if its fate has been far too predetermined, much like these two young fellers right here…

This image was one that I took during a vacation to the princely, yet itty-bitty kingdom of Monaco. Ignore the lady in the background, you know that I suck at taking pictures and somehow I would mess the image up. I want you to focus on the two steely lovers in the forefront. I don’t remember what this sculpture was called, but I would call it The Lovers’ Embrace. They too look very raw, devoid of the finishing touches of clothing and make up, yet the emotional intensity here is enough to mask their imperfections. Draw into the little details like the way the woman lightly lifts her leg of the ground, the way the man tenderly brushes the woman’s face; his hands seem to be vanishing into her cheeks. Finally, their heads are just placed so perfectly in a matter as if a semi-heart can be seen in the gap between them, but like my pasta, the joyousness is soon to be lost. The figures are dark and I see them somberly bidding adieu in a gray scene filled with the endless sound of thunder and torrential downpour.

If I can be honest, which I strongly encourage myself to be, the Baked Penne looked uglier after it got, well, baked. The basil, while tasty in its crispy form became wilted and brown, the visually pleasing asymmetry of the mozzarella slices turned into a large blobby mess of melted cheese, and the playful olive oil streaks vanished into the depths of the dish. While my brother and I attacked the dish like a pack of hungry vultures because of course it was still delicious, I thought about how beautiful the dish was before, how like the two lovers it had the potential to be true beauty.

So there it is, a melodramatic Valentine’s Day tale from guy who probably does not even know what love is yet, but I just had to honor this dish because it my opinion, it truly is one of the cutest things I have ever made.

Recipe: Baked Penne alla Marinara (The Sexy Version)

  • Well, first of all there really is no need to post an actual recipe for this because this dish really isn’t anything new. All you have to do is…
  • Make a big bath of MY HOMEMADE MARINARA SAUCE, AND MY HOMEMADE SAUCE ONLY (the recipe is on this blog), any jarred variety will not do, and your dish will be an automatic FAIL.
  • Then, boil up some penne, but just below the completion point because the pasta will finish cooking in the oven. Coat the pasta generously with my sauce, please note that you can make as little or as much as you like so there is no need to put any proportions or measurements really.
  • Place the pasta in a baking dish and cover it up with slices of fresh mozzarella. Once again if you even dare to use a mozzarella that was already grated and came out of one of those cheap and lame Kraft bags, your dish will be a FAIL.
  • Lace up the top with grated Parmigiano, fresh basil leaves, and drizzle with olive oil.
  • At this point, you will probably be, much like I was, tempted to dig in right away and eat the beautiful creation. However ya gotta bake it at around 350 degrees farenheit for 10-15 minutes or so, or until the cheese is nice and melted. Eat and enjoy right away.

Cooking Notes:

DSCN7139

ONE YEAR UPDATE: 

Hey ya’ll! I wrote the above post about a year back in a cramped college dorm, struggling to find something fun to post for Valentine’s Day. Well, I’m proud to say that last weekend this dish became, well sexier. So without fail, let me introduce (drum roll please), Farfale al Forno! It literally translates to baked Farfale, and we once again are playing off of the baked ziti idea. The only difference is that this version is far feistier, and the flavors are more alive and in your face. Let’s also not forget that my culinary skills have grown quite a bit in the past year, and I feel like I have reached a point in my life where I can’t stop thinking about food! I love everything about eating, cuisines, food preparation, cooking, and of course the grand pantheon which houses it all, the kitchen. While cooking in my host family’s kitchen here in Denmark may be challenging due to the small size, limited equipment, and questionable ingredients, I can’t say that I have been mad at any dish I have made. I’m sure that all my new friends here can agree :). Therefore, let me now present you all with an easy to make dish, for that special someone in your life, on any day of the year.

Ze Revamp: Farfale al FornoDSCN7146

1. La Salsa (the sauce): While in the previous recipe I used my slow-cooking tomato sauce, I have since fallen in love with a new preparation that has become my go to recipe whenever I want to make pasta at the drop of the hat. It’s a quick marinara sauce featured previously in another blog post of mine over here. Gutsy garlic, cheeky chili, fruity olive oil, tangy tinned tomatoes. You absolutely can’t go wrong with that combination. It’s a sure-fire winner, and I only hope that this sauce can become a staple in your home, like it has in mine.

2. La Spinta Nutrizionale (the nutritional boost): With a recipe that’s known for its cheesiness, there certainly needs to be a nutritional backdrop, right? Right when about my sauce was done simmering (it only takes 20 minutes, so don’t even fret about it!), I added a bag of frozen spinach. Yep, you heard me, spinach. It’s an absolute match made in heaven when you pair spinach and garlic, and I can tell you that spinach-loathers in your family won’t even realize their eating it because they will be blinded by the fabulous taste. I tell you, it’s all mind over matter folks. If you mix unwelcome foods with well-loved foods, you can definitely convert any haters.

3. La Pasta (the pasta): Normally people put ziti, rigatoni, or penne into these kind of dishes because the sauce gets trapped in the tubes. I put farfalle because that was in the pantry, and I did not want go out buying a new box of pasta because if I haven’t already reiterated before, Denmark is EXPENSIVE. Trust me, you can put any pasta, and it really won’t make much of difference. It certainly won’t affect the taste at all.

DSCN71424. i Formaggi (the cheeses): The best part! I know that in a previous post, I denounced pre-grated mozzarella cheese as some of the worst stuff ever made. I really ought to watch what I write because it turns out that pre-grated mozzarella melts a lot better than the fresh stuff. Therefore, I throw in some of the pre-grated stuff in between layers of farfalle, but don’t worry, I still respect my love, fresh mozzarella, by giving it top billing in the topping. Within the sauce, I stirred in a box of cottage cheese because I couldn’t find ricotta cheese at my local grocery store (sad, I know, but maybe it’s cause it’s hard to decifer through all those confusing Danish labels). It pretty much remained as a bunch of curds rather than blending into the sauce, but in the end, I was actually okay with it. Made the finally product less salty.

5. The Assembly: Prepare the sauce and the pasta. When cooking the pasta, remember to cook it for about 2 minutes less than indicated in the package directions because the pasta will finish cooking in the oven. Grab a large baking dish (about 9X13 inches) and pour in a thin layer of sauce on the bottom. Then add some of the pasta followed by a layer of sauce, a layer of grated mozzarella, and a sprinkling of fresh basil leaves. Then add another layer of pasta followed by the sauce, mozzarella, and fresh basil leaves. Finish with a third layer of pasta topped with the rest of the sauce, fresh mozzarella cheese, a sprinkling of the grated stuff, and some dried oregano for that extra flavor kick. Bake at about 400 degrees Fahrenheit for around 30 minutes, till the cheese is browned, melty, and bubbly. Scoop it out onto your plates, and ENJOY IT!!

Happy Belated Valentine’s Day Everyone!

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