Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage

About a month ago, a dear friend of mine was working on his house, when the scaffolding on which he was standing broke and he tumbled to the ground resulting in a severely broken ankle.  The ER doctor and the orthopedic surgeon told him it was one of the worst breaks they had ever seen and was definitely going to need surgery, once the swelling went down.  Despite the fact that the surgery went well, he still has a long road ahead of him with restricted mobility and confined surroundings, so I have been trying to drop off food and a bit of cheer now and again, to hopefully help keep his spirits up.

Soon after his fall, I took over a ham, tomato and cheddar quiche which I discussed a few weeks ago.  I knew a lot of friends were dropping food off, so I thought this quiche would be a little bit out of the ordinary from the other dishes they might be receiving.  But when I started planning something else to drop by this week, I was having a hard time coming up with anything that sounded good, was semi inexpensive to make (seeing as how I am currently between jobs) and would be easy to reheat.  I knew that someone had already brought them lasagna, which tends to be an old standby for me on such occasions, and for some reason there wasn’t a soup recipe that was really speaking to me at the moment, other than corn chowder, which I figured might be a bit rough to digest on all those pain meds.  So, in some round about way I settled on baked ziti with spicy Italian sausage.

Ever since Nate and I traveled to Florence, Italy in the spring of 2010, I have been craving the unbelievably delicious and melty baked ziti that we had at this little delicatessen type Italian lunch cafe.  Off the beaten tourist path a bit, this little shop was nearly impossible to step into upon first arrival, because it was so packed with locals.  In fact you had to be quite assertive to get in the door before someone else would rush in ahead of you.  But once you got in and up to the counter display case, you found every Italian antipasti delicacy that you could possibly want, along with paninis made to order, and two pasta dishes which changed daily, amongst a great many other things.  If you ordered the pasta special you were handed a heaping plate of pasta, that could easily serve two, and a side of bread for 2 Euro.  A steel for central Florence as far as we were concerned!  And while this plate of pasta could serve two, it was so unbelievably delicious in the simplest most traditional way, that Nate and I each had to have our own, because this was simply too good to share.

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Fresh tomato basil pasta

This is one of my favorite summer dishes.  When you have fresh ingredients, everything is better.  I am someone who absolutely loves tomatoes, basil and garlic in any form, and this dish is so simple and yet so good, it is perfect for any occasion.  This uncooked tomato sauce is tossed with hot pasta and allowed to sit for a few minutes before serving so that everything is warmed through, yet the freshness of a tomato picked straight from the vine is preserved.  I guarantee you will spend all year craving it.

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Preserving the tastes of summer

It is that wonderful time of year when all of the hard work on your garden throughout the year really pays off.  It is also the time when everything becomes ripe all at once, resulting in more produce than you can physically eat before it starts to go bad.

While this may seem a bit frustrating after you have waited all summer for the delicious freshness of a tomato from the vine, the beauty of this inundation is that you have the opportunity to preserve these tastes of summer to savor on a cold winter’s day.

There are certain things that I prefer to preserve over others.  For example, pickled zucchini or summer squash is not something I prefer; however, there are many kinds of pickles that I love.  I also adore dilly beans, canned raw tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato puree, peaches in light sugar, peach relish, salsa, pepper jelly, pesto, corn and of course jam.

There are three methods of preserving that I utilize: freezing, drying and canning.  I think certain items do better with certain methods of preserving.  Freezing is of course the simplest, but once you get the hang of canning it is really quite easy.

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Tomato Party!

A fresh tomato is a truly beautiful and delicious thing.  I love to simply eat them sliced, perhaps with a bit of sliced basil and fresh ground pepper on top, or to pick a cherry tomato and pop it in my mouth straight from the vine.  This is one of the sweetest things that nature has to offer.  One of my favorite dishes to make with fresh tomatoes and fresh herbs is Ottolenghi’s Tomato Party.

This recipe utilizes many different kinds of tomatoes, including green tomatoes, red and yellow cherry tomatoes and vine-ripened tomatoes.  Some are roasted, some are raw, and the combination of flavors between the tomatoes, fresh garlic, oregano, mint and tarragon are divine, and only seem to get better with time.

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