Friday, June 24, 2011

Recipe: Ziti with Prosciutto, Asparagus, and Mozzarella

My parents are driving over to State College tonight and spending most of Saturday there, so I was left to fend for myself for dinner tonight. I'd thought about just tossing together a salad or heating up a Smart Ones meal (hey, even cooks are entitled to a few "off" nights), but I hadn't had much to eat today and I was craving one of my all time favorite dishes (and the dish my boyfriend most often asks me to make): Giada De Laurentiis' Ziti with Asparagus, Smoked Mozzarella, and Prosciutto (from her Everday Italian cookbook). Now, I have a habit of tweaking almost every dish I make (sometimes even on the first try making them, which is typically a no-no in the cooking world), and this one is no exception. I use regular mozzarella instead of smoked and I saute the prosciutto to give it a little crunch in the pasta. I'm also at that stage in my cooking where I only loosely follow measurements and timers, and once I've made something once, I can usually do it again and again without the recipe by my side. So, I'll share her recipe, but share the way I make it and do my best with the technical stuff, like measurements and timing.

Serves: 4
Prep. time: 10-15 minutes
Cooking time: 20 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

  • Salt and pepper
  • Butter or margarine
  • Dried basil
  • 8 oz. dried ziti or other tubular pasta (about 1/2 a box of pasta)
  • 1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (they're sold in bundles, and I usually use the whole thing)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 oz. (about 1/2 cup) mozzarella cheese, diced (I just buy an 8 oz. Bel Gioioso brand mozzarella ball...and use all of it...what can I say?—I like cheese!)
  • 3 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto, cut into small squares
  • 3 tbsp. thinly sliced fresh basil
  • Italian cheese (to sprinkle on top of the finished product)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the ziti and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the asparagus and cook until the pasta is al dente and the asparagus is bright green and crisp, about 5 minutes. Drain the pasta and asparagus, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid (I typically don't reserve any liquid, but if you want a wetter pasta, or more of a sauce, keep it).
In the meantime, while the ziti and asparagus are cooking together, heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over a medium flame. Add the minced garlic and prosciutto and cook the prosciutto until it turns to a darker brown/pink and is slightly crispy. Toss the cooked prosciutto, cubes of mozzarella, and fresh basil with the pasta and add in butter (about 1 tbsp.), olive oil (about 4 tbsp.), dried basil, salt, and pepper, to taste. Sprinkle with the Italian cheese of your choice and serve.

This dish is very filling and reheats wonderfully. The prosciutto gives it a bit of a salty flavor, while the butter and olive oil create a light, almost-creamy sauce (trust me, you don't need cheesy or tomato-packed sauces to make pasta delicious). Be forewarned: The mozzarella will melt quickly and it can make the dish a little tricky to eat (you may even need a butter knife to cut through the melty, stringy cheese), but I personally love getting globs of the cheese in my bites of pasta.  All in all, a delicious and easy dish to make, and perfect for lunch the next day.

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