Difficulty: Easy but long cooking time
When I was a kid one of my favorite dishes from my mom’s repertoire was baked ziti. She never cooked it like this, but this way is inspired by the numerous baked pastas and pasta with broccoli dishes I’ve had in southern Italy and Sicily. Besides, this is a pretty dish and delicious; the mixture of the broccoli with the remaining ingredients is very nice, especially with a good quality caciocavallo cheese. Caciocavallo is a hard spun-curd cheese made from cow's milk. A spun-curd cheese, or pasta filata, is so-called because the drained curd is soaked in hot whey and then in water and finally stretched, molded, and spun by the cheese maker. Among these string-like cheeses are mozzarella, provolone, and scamorze. Caciocavallo is hung in the form of two gourds tied together. Ziti lunghe is simply uncut macaroni in one long strand. It’s actually kind of fun to eat and perfect for a baked pasta dish. It’s the pasta used in the Greek dish called pastitsio.
Yield: Males 4 servings
Preparation Time: 1 hour
1/2 pound ziti lunghe
1 1/4 pounds broccoli, florets removed, stems saved for another purpose
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and more for drizzling
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 pound caciocavallo or provolone cheese, sliced
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
2. For every pound of pasta, bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat, salt abundantly with up to 1/2 cup of salt, then add the pasta in handfuls. After about 5 minutes, add the broccoli. Cook over high heat, stirring occasionally so the pasta doesn’t stick together, until very al dente. Drain without rinsing. Transfer the pasta to a bowl and toss the pasta and broccoli with the olive oil, parmigiano, and garlic. Season lightly with salt and black pepper. Place in a lightly buttered 5-inch deep round baking dish or oven-proof terrine.
3. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat, then add the flour to form a roux, cooking and stirring for about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the heat off and slowly whisk in the warm milk and cream. Turn the heat to medium and cook the white sauce until dense, stirring occasionally, 10 to 15 minutes.
4. Layer the caciocavallo cheese over the pasta and cover with the white sauce. Sprinkle the top with bread crumbs and a drizzle of olive oil. Bake until the top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve hot.