I wasn't even that hungry. I didn't even heat it up. I didn't even bother to put it on a plate. Rather, I stood in front of the fridge, a fork in one hand, a baking dish in the other, and gobbled the last of my baked ziti primavera like it was the first meal I had in a week.
Such poor (if not non-existent) table manners speak to the high level of culinary success I achieved with this dish. Sure, I had a few drinks after work last night, so the drunk munchies undoubtedly played a role in this slovenly display. But still, excellent food has the power relax one's inhibitions, to reduce a civilized adult to a drooling slave of impulse. That, anyway, is my story and I'm sticking to it.
I based this dish on a simple a la minute baked ziti recipe I learned at a previous restaurant and added a few tricks I picked up recently. I also couldn't resist throwing in a bunch of fresh summer vegetables--hence the primavera suffix.
1 box (16oz) ziti
1 can (24oz) tomato puree
1 container (8oz) ricotta cheese
1 container (6oz) parmesan cheese
1 white onion
1 green pepper
4 cloves fresh garlic
salt and pepper
In a large pot, saute vegetables and garlic in oil and butter, seasoning with salt and pepper. When the vegetables begin to sweat and soften, add tomato puree. Season sauce with basil, thyme and a generous sprinkling of fennel to add a delicious note of liquorish. Allow to simmer until vegetables are cooked fully. Mix in ricotta cheese.
Okay now here's the kicker, the ace-up-my-sleeve, the special ingredient that transformed this basic recipe to something with the power to make a person lust mindlessly for repeated tastings like a zombie hungry for brains: Honey. I squeezed two complete revolutions of this golden ambrosia around the pot and stirred it in. I tasted it, eager to ascertain whether this unlikely ingredient would spoil my dish or thrust it into the next tier.
The first taste caught my taste buds unawares. In the midst of the familiar Italian flavors was a subtle sweetness, a wholesome hint that seemed to envelop my tongue in a sort of euphoria. My mouth watered, begging for another taste. I had no choice but to comply. Again there it was, that remarkable tinge, not discernible as honey, but more an unassuming sweetness that sprouted instantly and wound its way around all the other flavors, enriching them beautifully.
The rest is easy. Fold in cooked pasta, transfer to an appropriately-sized baking dish and coat with parmesan and bread crumbs. Bake at 400 degrees until the bread crumbs brown and the cheese melts. Serve hot. Of course, if you find this dish's charms eroding your will entirely, enslaving you, your self-control and your manners, cold is good too.