Baked Ziti (w/ wine pairings)

Baked Ziti

Words aren’t really that necessary here… If you like pasta, and you like cheese, then you LOVE baked ziti. I mean how can’t you? It’s ooey-gooey cheesy deliciousness. And you can do so much with it. Vegetables, various meats, even play around with the cheeses… but I like to keep mine pretty simple. Pasta, cheese, herbs and a little sauce. Done.

So without further ado, here is my Baked Ziti recipe!

Serves 6-8 people

1lb Dry Pasta, ziti or rigatoni
1lb Block Mozzarella, cubed
2lb Whole Milk Ricotta
2 Large Eggs
1c Grated Parmesan, two 1/2c portions
2tsp Salt + more for your pasta water
2tsp Ground Black Pepper
2tsp Garlic Powder
1c Fresh Basil, chopped
1c Fresh Parsley, chopped
2c Marinara Sauce
8oz Shredded Mozzarella to top

It really doesn’t get much easier than this…

Heat your oven to 350F.

Boil your dry pasta in well salted water for two minutes less than specified on the packaging. In a large bowl combine the pasta, cubed mozzarella, ricotta, eggs, 1/2c grated parmesan, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, basil, parsley and marinara sauce, make sure it’s mixed well. Pour the mixture into a deep 9×13 baking dish, then top evenly with the remaining 1/2c grated parmesan and the 8oz of shredded mozzarella. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 350F, then increase the heat to 375F and bake for an additional 20 minutes to lightly brown the top. Allow to cool at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.

Wasn’t that super easy!?

Now let’s talk wine… Truthfully, with something as simple and traditional as this I tend to keep my wine pairings pretty simple. Obviously you have to go Italian, but don’t feel the need to break the bank. Think medium to full bodied reds. If you want to really do it the right way stick with wines from Southern Italy or Sicily, as that’s where Ziti al Forno (baked ziti) was originated. Here are a few wines that I would recommend.

Tratturi Primitivo di Salento, Puglia, Italy – Primitivo is said to be the grandfather of Zinfandel. As a varietal it tends to be relatively bright and no-nonsense, and that is certainly the case with Tratturi. The wine is medium bodied with a very friendly fruit forward opening, and a slightly spicy mid palate and finish. There is not much to be said about Tratturi, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. This is one of those wines that you don’t feel the need to sit around and analyze, you just drink it, and usually lots of it! It is the ideal pizza and pasta wine. One thing to note, at this time this wine is only available in New York and New Jersey, so for those outside you’ll have to order online. There are a number of online retailers currently selling the wine, so it’s not going to be a hunt. PP Score: 88 (Retail $8-11)

Musto Carmelitano Maschitano Rosso, Basilicata, Italy – The Carmelitano family have been making wine (and olive oil) from their estate in the del Vulture region of Basilicata for four generations, but didn’t start bottling under their own name until 2007. The Maschitano Rosso is their entry level offering, made from their younger Aglianico vines, and aged entirely in concrete. The wine is surprisingly approachable for Aglianico, which is naturally a full bodied and tannic varietal that typically needs time in bottle to evolve and gain balance. In the glass is a medium to full bodied wine of dark garnet hue with hints of rust along the edges. The nose has aromas of cherry, plum, dried herbs, pipe tobacco and leather. The palate is quite lively with notes of black cherry, balsamic, and herbs, along with subtle nuances of lardon and smoke, all framed by moderate tannins and surprisingly bright acidity. This is a wonderful introduction to the varietal, and an unbelievable wine for the price. Only 1,000 cases were produced, so you may have to have your fingers do the walking on the internet to find this one… PP Score: 89 (Retail $13-16) *Certified Organic

Valle dell’Acate Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily, Italy – Valle dell’Acate is one of most storied estates in Sicily, having been established by the Jocono family in the 19th century. They have 110 hectares of land, half of which is devoted to vineyard, the other half is a world class blood orange orchard… Probably not surprising that a number of their wines have subtle orange notes! Their Cerasuolo is a blend of 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Frappato. Nero’s tend to be big, dark, brooding uber masculine wines while Frappato is a very soft, bright and delicate varietal (think Gamay), so when you blend the two the end result is a medium to full bodied wine with surprising depth and complexity. You’ll find notes of both black cherry as well as a hint of maraschino, blueberry, orange zest, black pepper and subtle oak, along with refreshing acidity in the opening and mid palate, and firm tannins in the long lingering finish. This wine is truly gorgeous. It can be consumed now, or laid down for up to five years. PP Score: 91 (Retail $20-25) *Practicing Organic

So there you have it, my comforting and delicious recipe for baked ziti and some amazing, yet purse friendly, wines from Southern Italy to pair with it. I hope you will try it and I KNOW if you do you’ll love it! Some new recipes are en route soon, in the meantime crack open a delicious Italian red, sit back, and relax. Life is short, enjoy it!!!

Buon Appetito!


Rosemary & Garlic Roast Beef

Rosemary & Garlic Roast Beef

It’s been while since I’ve made roast beef for the family and now that cooler weather is rolling in I figured it was high time to change that. Not to pat myself on the back or anything, but this was honestly not only the best roast beef I’ve ever made… it was the best roast beef I’ve ever had! And I’ve eaten A LOT of roast beef in my life. It’s super easy to make with tons of flavor. My kids were literally talking about it the second they woke up this morning.

One thing to note… I prefer my meat leaning towards medium rare, so that’s what this recipe is geared towards. If you want it cooked more then you’ll have to figure out how much longer you’ll need to keep in the oven. If I had to guesstimate I would say another 15 minutes at 375F for medium.

Serves 6-8

3-4lb Beef Roast (I prefer bottom round, and I do not trim off the excess fat… it has all the flavor!)
1tbsp Kosher Salt or Sea Salt
1tbsp Ground Black Pepper
1tbsp Olive Oil
8 Sprigs of Fresh Rosemary
1 Head of Garlic with the top sliced off
3tbsp Unsalted Butter, melted

This is so easy you’re not going to believe how good it is!

Heat your oven to 300F.

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan at high heat. Liberally season all sides of your beef roast with the salt and pepper. Sear the roast on all sides until lightly browned (about 2-3 minutes), starting with the side that has the fat cap. Once seared allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes at room temperature.

Place the roast fat side up in a baking dish and place the garlic head and rosemary sprigs in the dish. Cover the dish with foil and cook in the oven for 30 minutes at 300F. After 30 minutes remove the foil and brush the roast with the melted butter. Increase the heat to 375F and cook uncovered for an additional 25 minutes.

Allow to rest for 10-15 minutes at room temperature before slicing, otherwise you’ll lose all of the juice.


Oh, and if you don’t know what I meant when I said 1 Head of Garlic with the top cut off, here’s what I mean…

garlic head

Derek’s Gumbo


Well, it’s been a long while… but after a 202 day hiatus from posting I’m finally back! Before I get into the recipe let me just take a moment to say thank you to all of my followers and fans for their continued support despite the absence of new posts. You guys are truly awesome.

So it’s Fall here along the Atlantic Coast in Northeastern USA, and we’re starting to turn to heartier fare. The other day my beautiful wife asked me to make something hearty and comforting, a soup or something along those lines, but also a little spicy. Immediately my mind went to Gumbo.

I will preface the recipe by saying that it’s slightly non-traditional in a few ways. First and foremost I use beer in my recipe, this is not entirely common. Also, I do not use okra… Quite frankly I hate the stuff. However, okra is not a required ingredient for a true gumbo, though some may say differently. It’s perfectly acceptable to use roux as a thickener instead. Lastly, I use Sriracha. Yes, I know, that’s an Asian condiment and this is a Southern Cajun/Creole dish… but think about it, Sriracha is smokey and spicy and full of flavors that are perfect for Gumbo!

So here you have it, my first post in over 200 days… Gumbo!

Serves: 6-8 as an entree, 10+ as an appetizer

1lb Chouriço (Chorizo) or Linguiça, sliced
2lb Raw Shrimp, peeled & deveined
1 Large Green Bell Pepper, chopped
1 Large Red Bell Pepper, chopped
3 Celery Stalks, chopped
2 Vidalia Onions, sliced
8tbsp Unsalted Butter
1/3c All Purpose Flour
12oz Beer (IPA or Lager)
56oz Canned Diced Tomatoes
8c Beef Stock
3c Water
2tsp Salt (plus more to season to taste)
1tsp Black Pepper (plus more to season to taste)
2tsp Paprika
2tbsp Sriracha
1c Fresh Parsley, chopped

So the hardest part of this dish is the prep. Once that’s done it’s a walk in the park.

Melt the butter in a large pot (I use an 8qt) at medium-high heat. Add the chopped bell peppers, celery and sliced onion along with 1tsp of salt. Cook until the vegetables start to sweat, about 5 minutes, stirring periodically. Increase the heat to high and add the all purpose flour, which will form your roux. Cook until the flour starts to brown, stirring constantly to stop it from sticking to the bottom and burning. Add the 12oz of beer and simmer until reduced by half, stirring periodically. Also make sure you scrape the bottom when stirring to ensure that no flour is sticking. Once the beer is reduced, add the canned tomatoes with liquid, beef stock, water, sausage (Chouriço or Linguiça), 1tsp each of salt and black pepper, and 2tsp of paprika. Reduce the heat to medium-high and simmer uncovered for two hours, stirring periodically. After two hours add the Sriracha and raw shrimp, simmer uncovered for 10 minutes at medium-low, stirring periodically. Taste the broth and add salt & pepper to taste. Add the chopped parsley and simmer for an additional two minutes.

That’s it, you’re done. Ladle it over some rice, crack open a beer, and enoy!!!

Once again, thanks for your patience! I promise it won’t be another 202 days before my next post… lol.

Penne Vodka with Shrimp (w/ wine pairings)

Penne Vodka with Shrimp

The other day I was sitting in my car in the grocery store parking lot trying to figure out what I wanted to make for dinner. I wanted to go in with an idea so I didn’t just wander aimlessly forever… I’ve been eating a ton of chicken and pork lately, so those were definitely out of the picture. I was in the mood for seafood, but not fish, more along the lines of shellfish. A number of ideas bounced around in my head like shrimp etouffée, frutta di mare, seafood gumbo… Then I remembered that a while back one of you had asked for a Penne Vodka recipe on my Facebook page. I used to make Penne Vodka all the time when I was younger but probably haven’t made it in at least 10 years, possibly longer. And just like that I was suddenly craving Penne Vodka with Shrimp. Perfecto!

Serves 6-8

2lb Penne Pasta
1lb Shrimp, peeled & deveined
1/3lb Pancetta, chopped
3 Cloves of Garlic, chopped
1 Shallot Bulb, chopped
1/2c Scallion, chopped (plus more for garnish)
2tsp Salt, (2) 1tsp portions
1tsp Ground Black Pepper
1c Vodka
28oz Diced Canned Tomatoes w/ juice
1c Tomato Sauce
3/4c Chicken Stock
4c Heavy Cream
2tbsp Unsalted Butter
1c Grated Parmesan Cheese

In a large pot melt the butter at medium heat, then add the pancetta, garlic and shallot along with 1tsp of salt. Cook until the pancetta is lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Increase the heat to high and add the vodka, simmer until it’s reduced by half. Add the diced tomatoes with juice, tomato sauce, chicken stock, heavy cream, and 1tsp each of salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring periodically.

Boil your pasta in salted water for 2 minutes less than specified on the pasta’s cooking instructions. Strain the pasta and add it to the sauce, along with the shrimp. Simmer uncovered on medium-low for an additional 5 minutes, stirring periodically.

Add the grated parmesan and 1/2c of chopped scallion and stir well.

That’s it, you’re pretty much done! Just plate it up and garnish with a little more chopped scallion. Wasn’t that easy???

Now let’s talk wine pairings… This dish is actually a little tricky. At face value most people would immediate think “I’m having a big plate of pasta, so I’ll have a big red!” But that won’t work. If you do a monster red wine you’re going to completely overwhelm the subtle flavors of the shrimp. I do recommend going with a red wine, but it needs to be something that is light to medium bodied so you can still taste and enjoy the shrimp. Furthermore, it needs to have at least a little acidity to cut through the richness of the cream sauce… I would lean towards varietals like Barbera, Montepulciano, Mayolet, Grenache Gris or Grignolino. Or you could even do a full bodied Rose! Here are a few wines that I would recommend.

Cantalupo Il Mimo Rosato, Piemonte, Italy – Cantalupo was established by the Arluno family back in 1969, but they had been producing wine from their vineyards in and around the village of Ghemme for centuries. Their Il Mimo Rosato is a rose of Nebbiolo sourced from three of their vineyards in Colline Novaresi. After the clusters are pressed the juice is kept on the skins overnight to gain color and density, then is drained off for fermentation and aging in stainless tanks. In the glass you’ll find a surprisingly dark, full bodied rose. The bouquet is redolent with aromas of ripe strawberry, dried cherries, rose petal and crushed dried herbs. On the palate the wine is moderately dense, with expressive notes of fruits and herbs mirroring the bouquet, all framed by subtle acidity and surprisingly tannic grip. This rose may not be ideal for someone who prefers softer, ethereal wines, but it’s the perfect rose for a person that is typically a red wine drinker. It is also one of the few roses I’ve come across that improves with a little age. PP Score: 89 (Retail $12-14)

Bedrock Wine Co. Grenache Gris Gibson Ranch, McDowell Valley, California – I’ve written about Bedrock Wine Co. a number of times before, and you can safely bet I’ll be writing about them a number of times in the future. Morgan Twain Peterson is, in my not-so-humble opinion, one of the top winemakers of this generation. And I don’t just mean from California, I mean one of the top winemakers… Period. His specialty is old vine Zinfandels and field blends, but when he was offered a couple of tons of grapes by the current owner of Gibson Ranch, Jake Bilbro, he couldn’t pass it up. Grenache Gris is a varietal that is largely unknown, but there are a handful of producers now working with small quantities of it out of California. It is a wonderful grape best suited for full bodied roses or lighter bodied reds. Morgan’s take was to make what he terms a “summer red”… Think Cru Beaujolais and you’re in the right ballpark. In the glass is a medium bodied wine of ruby red color. It’s quite fragrant, with aromas of cherry, black pepper, clove and slightly smokey cedar box. On the palate the wine is explosive, with notes of dried cherry, ripe bramble fruit and moderate peppery spice, along with nuances of fennel and dried herbs, balanced by equal doses of acidity and fine tannins, with a long, lingering, spicy finish. Spectacular. PP Score: 92 (Retail $21-24)

Forteto della Luja Le Grive Monferrato Rosso, Piemonte, Italy – Forteto della Luja is a small family run winery that was established in the Loazzolo DOC in 1826, located between Monferrato and the village of Asti. While my review will not be this brief, one word could suffice to describe their wines. Beautiful. From their Moscatos to their Barberas and beyond, every single wine they make is absolutely beautiful. The estate’s flagship wine is their Le Grive, a blend of Barbera and Pinot Noir from the ampitheater shaped Le Grive vineyard, named as such for the thrushes that take up residence there during the winter to feast on the juniper bushes that surround the valley. I’ve consumed many, many, many wines in my life, but this is one of the few that have ever left me speechless. In the glass you’ll find a medium bodied wine of garnet hue. Once the wine has a chance to breathe the bouquet comes alive with aromas of cherry, juniper, dried sage and hints of crushed violet. On the palate the wine is simultaneously complex and simple… There are various layers and nuances, but they all come together in such  perfect harmony that you don’t necessarily realize how complex it truly is. The prevalent notes are black cherries, dark plum and hints of ripe raspberry, with subtle nuances of dried herbs, rose petal, vanilla and pantry spice, all brought together by moderate acidity and soft tannins. The wine is not easily found as production is small and distribution is limited, but if you do find it don’t just get one bottle, buy the whole case. I strongly recommend decanting this for at least two hours prior to drinking. PP Score: 96 (Retail $28-34) *certified organic

Well, there you have it, my Penne Vodka recipe and some absolutely stunning wines to pair with it. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read, and I certainly hope you’ll try the recipe and the wines! And trust me, if you come across Forteto della Luja’s Le Grive buy as much as you can! And then send me a bottle as thanks for introducing you to it… lol. As always new content is en route. In the meantime crack open a bottle of something spectacular, sit back and relax. Life is short, enjoy it!

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