fake-baked ziti: confessions of a carb criminal

Sometimes the weekend rolls around and I want to break all dietary rules. I know, I know, I am adult, female, American and it is practically illegal to eat carbohydrates, sugar, salt, and most definitely fresh, whole milk mozzarella cheese. But Saturday and Sunday are my days off from the gym regimen, and so, the gut craves a break too. Thankfully, I am the parent of young, thin, energy-crazed children and I can conveniently hide behind the maternal guise of feeding them and indulge in deliciously goopy pasta dishes. Luckily, no kid will turn down mountains of melted cheese plus mine are well trained to know they get chocolate at the end of their meal if they eat, no questions asked. Either way, I get carte blanche to indulge in my carb cravings without getting lynched.For these quick “kid” moments, I turn to Rachael Ray. I know Rachael has gotten her share of mixed reviews, and, perhaps I too was guilty of some unresolved issues regarding her extreme perkiness (I’ll blame that boundless energy on her not having kids). Still, I met Rachael several times during my brief writing stint on her magazine, and I can thankfully report to all you skeptics out there that she is a genuinely nice, cheerful person (without the need of caffeine). She certainly gets things done, and can whip up a fast and tasty meal, even if (and especially because) she does it in a non-conventional way. Her dishes aren’t complicated nor pretend to be. They are just easy and they work. And that is part of her perky charm. Baked Ziti is just the ticket to carb comfort. It has several steps to it, but they are all manageable and worth the gooey outcome. When you are done, simply draw the curtains so the carb police doesn’t see. If you have a couple of kids, add them to the formula to make the whole process more believable. Then, sit down with a nice class of red wine and a crisp green salad (for guilt’s sake) and enjoy! You’ll jog it off later.

Fake-Baked Ziti

(Adapted from Rachael Ray Top 30 30-Minute Meals)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 tomatoes, chopped

1 16-ounce can tomato sauce

1/4 teaspoon dried basil

salt and pepper, to taste

1 pound ziti pasta

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour2 cups warm milk

1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano cheese

1 cup cubed fresh mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 350FBoil a large pot of water.

Sauté garlic in olive oil over medium high heat. Add chopped tomato and cook for five minutes. Add sauce, basil, salt and pepper to taste. Reduce to a simmer.When water boils, cook ziti 6 minutes, leaving it slightly chewy.

While pasta cooks, make béchamel sauce:

Melt butter in a small pot over medium heat. Add flour and stir with a wooden spoon for several minutes, until the flour begins to turn golden. Slowly whisk in heated milk until fully incorporated. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer for five minutes.When pasta is cooked, drain and transfer to a big casserole dish. Pour the tomato sauce over the pasta and turn to coat. Pour the béchamel over the pasta. Do not mix.Top with cheese and bake in the oven for 30 minutes.

Note: If you want the top to brown, you can place it under the broiler for a couple of minutes.

Serves 4-6

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fake-baked ziti: confessions of a carb criminal

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