Friday, February 24, 2017

Zitoni al forno e funghi

     Long Zitoni Tube Pasta Baked With Mushrooms, Cheese, Besciamella and Tomato Sauce!
     Today's baked pasta is a nice hearty entrée that is perfect for a cold winter day.  When the weather is cold, carbohydrate, protein and lipid intake should be increased in order to stay warm.  The energy that it takes to keep the body warm can affect energy levels needed for physical activity if there is a nutritional deficiency.  Eating a big hearty portion of energy packed pasta practically guarantees that there will be no tired feeling for many hours, even when the outdoor temperature is below zero.
     On the other hand, eating a heavy rich baked pasta meal in warm weather will have an opposite effect.  The body will simply go into a mode of storing the excess energy from a meal that has a high proportion of carbohydrates, protein and lipids.  This means that a tummy full of rich pasta will certainly cause a sleepy feeling and the next few hours will probably be spent reclining in an easy-chair.  Even so, those who work hard all week will certainly relish the thought of spending few lazy hours comfortably dealing with the after effects of heavy pasta meal!    
     Zitoni is a long tube shaped pasta.  This pasta is usually only used to make home style recipes and it is rarely served in restaurants.  This is because most people just break the long Zitoni pasta tubes in half before boiling them in hot water.  As one can imagine, serving broken pasta in a restaurant is taboo.
     Zitoni can be cooked whole, but the problem is finding a pot that is big enough to submerge this long tube pasta, so it cooks evenly.  Using a wide braising pan or a deep wide roasting pan is an option, but rapid water evaporation will likely occur.  If Zitoni is cooked unevenly, it will split apart, so it has to be fully submerged when boiled.
     Fully cooked whole Zitoni pasta tubes are a wiggly, sloppy, messy pasta to eat.  When eating at the table, the long hollow pasta tubes whip around in the air no matter how they are picked up, so it is best to wear a pasta bib eating whole Zitoni Pasta that was not intentionally broken before they were boiled.  Zitoni actually is so fun to eat, that the sloppy splattered mess does not matter.  The long tubes of Zitoni Pasta cannot be "slurped up" like spaghetti or linguini.  If you try to eat Zitoni by using the Italian pasta slurping method, then all you will accomplish is making noises that sound something like sucking on a straw in a milkshake glass that is almost empty.  Children like the sounds that Zitoni tube pasta makes!  If you want laughter at the dinner table, then serving whole unbroken Zitoni is a good choice!
     Many baked Zitoni recipes call for a tremendous amount of cheese or a combination of cheese and Besciamella Sauce.  Today's Baked Zitoni recipe is made with Besciamella Sauce, Mozzarella and Tomato Sauce that is flavored with thyme.  Thyme is usually not thought of being an Italian cuisine herb, but many regional Tomato Sauce recipes do require thyme, especially when the Tomato Sauce is used to make a baked casserole style entrée.
     Today's Zitoni al forno recipe features Italian mushrooms.  Porcini, Ceps and Portobello create a deep mushroom flavor.  These mushrooms can be found fresh or dried in most grocery stores.  Porcini and Ceps are basically the same strain of edible Bolete Mushroom, but there is a subtle difference in flavor.  Porcini are a type of Cep that grows in one certain area of Italy.  The environment and climate where Porcini grow causes this Cep strain to have a rich smokey mushroom flavor.  Ordinary Ceps have a rich classic wild mushroom flavor.  Portobello are Italian Brown Field Mushrooms and they have a little bit deeper flavor than an ordinary Button Cave Mushroom, which is the mushroom strain that Portobello are related to.  White Truffles are definitely an option for today's pasta, but these mushrooms are not widely available.  White Truffle Oil can be used to add flavor, but good White Truffle Oil is quite expensive.  Most of the low price White Truffle Oil that is sold in common grocery stores is so diluted, that it is not worth adding to a recipe.        

     Cep and Porcini Mushroom Preparation: 
     If fresh Cep and Porcini Mushrooms are used for this recipe, then skip over the soaking steps. 
     Step 1:  Place 5 dried slices of Cep and 5 dried slices of Porcini Mushroom in a container.
     Add 1 1/2 cups of water.
     Soak the mushrooms overnight in a refrigerator.
     Step 2:  Remove the mushrooms from the soaking liquid and place them on a cutting board.
     Save the mushroom soaking liquid.
     Cut the Cep and Porcini Mushrooms into bite size pieces.
     Chill the mushrooms and soaking liquid till they are needed.

     Tomato Sauce for Pasta Casserole:
     This recipe yields about 1 1/4 cups.
     This is an "a la minute" Tomato Sauce that only takes about 30 minutes to make.
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium low heat.
     Add 2 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced onion.
     Add 3 minced garlic cloves.
     Gently sauté till the onion turns clear in color.
     Step 2:  Add 3/4 cup of imported Italian canned crushed plum tomatoes.
     Add 1/3 cup of imported Italian canned tomato puree.
     Add 1 pinch of basil.
     Add 1 pinch of thyme.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
     Stir and bring the sauce to a simmer.
     Step 3:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Simmer and reduce till the flavors meld and the sauce is a medium thin consistency.  Stir occasionally.
     Step 4:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Set the sauce aside and let it cool to room temperature. 

     Besciamella Sauce: 
     This recipe yields about 1 cup.    
     Step 1:  Heat a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add an equal amount of flour while constantly stirring with a whisk to make a roux.  (The roux should look shiny, not caky.)
     Constantly stir till the roux is pale whitish yellow color.
     Step 2:  Add 1/4 cup of cream while stirring.
     Add 1 1/4 cups of milk while stirring.
     Stir till the sauce comes to a gentle boil and thickens to a very thin consistency.
     Step 3:  Reduce the temperature to low heat.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 1 small pinch of nutmeg.
     Gently simmer and reduce till the sauce is a medium consistency that can easily coat a spoon.
     Step 4:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced Italian Parsley while stirring.
     Set the Béchamel Sauce aside and let it cool to room temperature.
     Sautéed Italian Mushrooms:
     This recipe yields enough for 1 large portion of Zitoni Pasta.
     Step 1:  Heat a wide sauté pan over medium heat.
     Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of Pomace Olive Oil.
     Add 2 to 3 small Portobello Mushrooms that are thin sliced.  (About 1/4 cup)
     Add the reserved prepared Cep and Porcini Mushrooms.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
     Sauté till the mushrooms are lightly browned.
     Step 2:  Add the reserved mushroom soaking liquid.
     Rapidly simmer and reduce till only about 2 tablespoons of liquid remains.
     Remove the pan from the heat.
     Let the mushroom mixture cool to room temperature.    

     Zitoni al forno e funghi: 
     This recipe yields 1 large hearty portion.
     A deep large pot or a wide deep braising pan is needed to cook Zitoni because of the length of this pasta.  Take care not to break or split the Zitoni when stirring.
     Step 1:  Cook 1 large portion of unbroken whole Zitoni Pasta in a large pot of boiling water over medium high heat.
     When the Zitoni is cooked al dente, drain the hot water off of the pasta.
     Cool the Zitoni under cold running water.
     Drain the water off of the pasta.
     Step 2:  Place the al dente Zitoni Pasta in a large oven proof pasta bowl (or a deep single portion casserole dish).
     Pour 1 cup of the Besciamella Sauce over the pasta.
     Add the Sautéed Italian Mushroom Mixture and the small amount (about 2 tablespoons) of reduced mushroom broth from the pan.
     Gently mix the ingredients together, till the pasta is coated.
     Step 3:  Place large spoonfuls of the Tomato Sauce on top of the pasta mixture.  (About 3/4 cup is enough.)
     Step 4:  Sprinkle about 3/4 cup of grated Mozzarella Cheese on the pasta.
     Spoon a few dabs (1 tablespoon size dabs) of tomato sauce on some of the cheese.  (About 1/4 cup total.)
     Step 5:  Place the pasta casserole dish in a 350ºF oven.
     Bake till the sauces start to bubble and light golden brown highlights appear on the cheese.
     Step 6:  Remove the casserole dish from the oven.
     Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons of finely grated Parmigiana Cheese over the pasta.
     Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of minced Italian Parsley over the pasta.
     Place the hot pasta bowl on a doily lined serving platter.
     *Serve with garlic bread and some good Italian red wine!

     Break out the pasta bibs!  Zitoni al forno e funghi is a heavy, rich, aromatic baked pasta that is perfect for a cold winter day!     

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