The writing in this book makes you feel like you were there through her pain, her recovery and when she finds her way back in the kitchen. How she learnt be the guest in her own home when normally she was the host. You crave the grilled salmon, dressed salad and crusty bread her and her husband make while away at a friends cabin and when she talks about taking her helmet off when she felt safe, it's like you were right there with her. Jessica Fechtor has a way with words that takes you with her and her story.
And the recipes in this book match her writing, they are page splatterers, you can't help but want to get elbows deep in them. With a story behind each one it brings the food to life when you're cooking and knowing that someone all the way across the other side of the world made this recipe every week for Friday dinners and now it's found it's way into your little kitchen, it's a nice feeling to have while pottering around the kitchen.
The first one that tickled my fancy before I'd even finished the book was the Saucy Baked Ziti. Only a few months ago I had never heard of Baked Ziti before, what on earth is this hashtag going around instagram!? A bit of googling and insta-stalking later I realised that it essentially was a type of pasta bake. The internet does not do this dish much justice to be honest and I'd never heard of this type of pasta called 'ziti'. But then it popped up in Jess's book where she mentions that she never really knew what the fuss was about and I'll be honest again, either did I and I love a good pasta bake! If she didn't know what the fuss was about but the recipe has made it into her book then it must be worth a try and... Wholly Cow! It was good!!
Rich and comforting but spicy and slightly creamy with cheese and basil throughout. Oh and how can I forget the panko bread crumb topping!?! I'm going to say it... One of the best pasta bakes I've ever had. Jess's Saucy Baked Ziti rocked! Sorry to all the other hundreds of Baked Ziti recipes out there in the cyber void, I will forever stay true to this one.
It does use a fair few pots but then it goes in the oven for 15 minutes for the final cooking and it gives you time to do an initial tidy and clean so you can sit down knowing that there is only your bowls and the baking dish left. I love a recipe like that and didn't mind the washing up at all for the final result. I will be making this again and again I can already tell. So delicious.
I loved that Jessica shared her story with the world, thankyou. The only problem now is which recipe to make next... the wholemeal chocolate chip cookies? or the Butter Almond cake? or to throw a dinner party on a Friday night and serve freshly baked challah and roast chicken!?
Saucy Baked Zitirecipe from Stir, My broken brain and the meals that brought me home by Jessica Fechtor.
serves 6 - 8
For the tomato sauce:
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes, plus more to taste (I found 1 teaspoon spicy enough)
2 x 400g cans whole peeled tomatoes
1 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
For the bechamel:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons plain flour
2 cups full cream milk, warmed (but not boiled)
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, plus more to taste
For the rest of the dish:
450g dry ziti or rigatoni (I used penne)
225g fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup (50g) freshly grated parmesan
1 cup (50g) panko bread crumbs
A pinch or two of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes (optional - I left these out)
2 tablespoons olive oil
A handful of fresh basil leaves, sliced or torn into small pieces
- Preheat oven to 375F or 180C and brush a baking dish with olive oil.
Make the tomato sauce:
- Pour the 4 tablespoons olive oil into a saucepan and warm over medium-high heat. Stir in the garlic and crushed chilli flakes and cook for about 1 minute or so, until fragrant (be careful not to colour the garlic). Add the tomatoes, smooshing them up in your hands as you drop them in the pot along with all the juices. Stir in the salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until slightly thickened. Taste and add more salt or chilli if you'd like. Remove the pot from the heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, make the bechamel:
- Melt butter in a clean saucepan over medium head. Add the flour and stir for a couple of minutes to form a pale brown paste. Very slowly add the warmed milk while whisking continuously. Bring the sauce to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes, whisking the whole time until it thickens. Remove pot from the heat, stir in the salt and nutmeg then taste to see if you need anymore of either. Set aside.
Make the pasta and assemble the dish:
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook until it's 3 to 4 minutes short of being done. Drain and transfer to your largest bowl. Add the tomato sauce, bechamel, mozzarella and about three quarters of the parmesan and mix well.Transfer mix into prepared baking dish and scatter the ziti with the remaining parmesan.
- In a small bowl, toss the bread crumbs with a pinch of nutmeg, some extra chilli flakes if you want a little extra heat and 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle over the top.
- Bake until the ziti is bubbling and the top is brown, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes, then scatter the sliced basil over the top and serve.