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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Happy Birthday Kate (Belated Edition)

I love birthdays.  To me, they're the best of  the holidays, all wrapped into one special day that's all yours.  I'm not sure the rest of my family feels the same way, certainly not Ted and Charlie, (how very male of them), but I just love birthdays.

Back when my kids were little, I always enjoyed hosting their birthdays at home.  We had all kinds of parties: mad science parties, princess parties, Star Wars parties.  You name it, we did it.  As the kids got older, parties moved out of our backyard and into bowling alleys, ice skating rinks, and laser tag venues.  Living in Los Angeles back then, I'm sure you can imagine what went on with birthday parties.  Let's just say that a simple little do with balloons, cake, and ice cream would never do.

Nonetheless, I always enjoyed the backyard parties the best.  There was something simple (read appropriate) about them.  Everyone had fun and they didn't require a party planner other than yours truly.

Yup, those were the days.

Kate turned 18 back in March, and I thought some sort of celebration was in order.  She was dubious. This was not because she doesn't enjoy a good birthday shindig, but rather because I think she hadn't figured out how best to mark the occasion.  Not to worry.  Mom to the rescue.

So, we had a dinner party.  Yes, we had a dinner party.  At our house.  And it was perfect.  

Kate invited a bunch of her closest girlfriends over for dinner.  I cooked up a storm.  They laughed and talked about how excited they are for college.  They ate birthday cake.  Her friends made her Pinterest crafts for presents.  There was something so perfectly appropriate about the celebration.  

Kate loved it.  Her friends loved it.  And I loved doing it.

Among other things, I made this baked rigatoni with zucchini dish.  We had a couple of vegetarians so I wanted to make sure there was something for everyone.

Recipe:  Baked Rigatoni and Zucchini Recipe
(Lidia Bastianich)


1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 pound medium zucchini, sliced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups of marinara sauce (recipe below)
1 pound rigatoni
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
8 ounces shredded Muenster cheese or Taleggio
1 cup grated Grana Padano cheese

For the marinara sauce:

(*Note:  You can be lazy and use prepared marinara sauce. I like the Rao's brand.)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled
2  35 oz cans of Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
Crushed red pepper to taste
10 fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon salt


For the marinara sauce:

Heat oil in a 2 to 3-quart non-reactive saucepan over medium heat. Whack the garlic with the flat side of a knife, add it to the oil and cook until lightly browned.
Crush the tomatoes by hand, slide the crushed tomatoes and their liquid into the oil, bring to a boil and season lightly with salt and crushed red pepper. Lower the heat so the sauce is at a simmer and cook until the sauce is chunky and thick, about 20 minutes. Stir in the basil about five minutes before the sauce is finished. Season with more salt and red pepper if necessary.
Remove garlic cloves, let cool and store in pint and quart containers. They will keep well in the freezer for one to two months.

For the baked rigatoni: 
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil for pasta. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the zucchini, and cook until the zucchini begins to soften, another 5 minutes.

Add the marinara sauce to the skillet. Bring the sauce to a boil and simmer just until the sauce thickens, about 8 to 10 minutes. Take care the zucchini doesn’t fall apart.

Meanwhile, cook the rigatoni until al dente, a few minutes shy of the package directions. Drain the pasta and toss in the skillet with the tomato sauce and basil.

Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. In a medium bowl toss together the two grated cheeses. Spread half the pasta and sauce in the baking dish and top with half the cheese. Layer the remaining pasta and sauce, then the remaining cheese. Bake uncovered until browned and bubbly, about 20 minutes.


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