There is something about the dishes that I’ve tried so far from America’s master chef Mario Batali. Something very clean, simple and almost spartan. I really appreciate how his recipes allow the flavours of his ingredients to shine, and how he creates an interplay of textures that never seems forced or contrived.
My admiration for his food philosophy only increased after watching his Iron Chef showdown with modernist Atlanta chef Richard Blais. Seeing Mario’s effortless calm and unpretentious creations, versus the scientific stylings of Blais really drove home the appreciation that as fascinating as chemical compounds and reactions can be, at the end of the day a good meal revolves around appearance, aroma and most of all taste. And that’s something that all the liquid nitrogen and C02 containers in the world will never change!
The following recipe for Baked Ziti with Cauliflower was part of my Mother’s Day menu and was greatly enjoyed. Unlike Italian-American zitis it did not have a heavy white sauce or contain tomatoes. As a result, it was much lighter in feel, but no less filling!
Note: This recipe has been submitted to Heart of the Matter #4 – Vegetables, as well as Presto Pasta Nights
Baked Ziti with Cauliflower: Ziti Gratinati
Recipe By: Food Network / Mario Batali
Serving Size: 8
1 medium-sized head cauliflower, cut in large florets
1 teaspoon saffron
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 cloves, garlic thinly sliced
3 anchovy fillets, salted variety, rinsed and filleted
1 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
1 1/4 lbs. ziti
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino-Romano
1 cup bread crumbs
Bring 6-quarts of water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Place the cauliflower florets into the boiling water. Cook until the cauliflower is slightly resistant to a fork, 7 to 8 minutes. Drain, reserving the cooking water. Set aside. Pour 1/4 cup of the cauliflower cooking water into a small bowl. Add the saffron and let it dissolve. Set aside.
In a 12 to 14-inch saute pan over high heat, heat 4 tablespoons olive oil until almost smoking. Add the garlic, florets and anchovies, and saute for 2 minutes. Add the pine nuts and saute for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Bring the cauliflower water back to a boil and add the ziti. Cook until parboiled, about half-done. Drain well.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Pour the ziti into a large, deep, ovenproof casserole. Stir in the cauliflower mixture and 1/2 of the cheese. Sprinkle with the saffron water and mix gently.
Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.
Crumble the bread crumbs on top and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
Bake for 15 minutes. Serve immediately.