So, today’s post is about comfort food but still trying to be good. Is that even possible?
We hosted some friends in town recently and they stayed with us for one night so I wanted to cook up a nice, home cooked meal. These guys had just in fact climbed Mount Rainier! Yup, you heard me right. They were out there for ONE week. 5 days climbing up that bad boy and coming down. They went with professional mountain climbers and a group so they were in great hands. . but they were there for one week, with no running water, no shower, no bathroom (well, not what we would call a bathroom) and they were carrying everything they needed for that week, on their backs (40 lbs I think)!
The first thing I asked John when they got to our house- after, “Wow! Congrats! You freakin’ climbed Mt. Rainier” – was: “Dude, what have you been eating this entire week?” and “so, this means you haven’t showered in a week huh?”
So, when it was confirmed they were coming over for dinner I started cooking. . John and Tae were tired, hungry and had just spent a week eating dried food and nuts .. so I had to whip out my specialty. . to me, this dish says home cooked at its best. . and it makes the kitchen smell amazing. I made my Pork Shoulder Ragù. . . and I was going to make Mac n Cheese to go with it. . because I’m thinking these guys would love some Mac n Cheese right about now, right? Wrong! Well, at least one of the guys. . .
John comes into the kitchen and comments on the amazing smell of the pork cooking and asks me what’s for dinner. . so I tell him Pork Shoulder Ragù. . and he politely asks me to not put any cheese, especially not Parmigiano-Reggiano on his . . . Well, I am floored because I have never before in my life met anyone who doesn’t like Parmigiano-Reggiano! Come on!!! Are you freakin’ kidding me? It’s freakin’ wonderful. How can you eat any pasta dish without freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano? And while I am pulling myself together mentally. . I say, “OK but you like Mac n Cheese right?” Well, friends. Seems I met the first person I know who does not like mac n cheese. Well, other than my 5 year old daughter. He doesn’t eat cheese at all. No cheese. Nothing. He can barely eat pizza with mozzarella cheese on it. . the smell bothers him and I think he might have even said it kind of makes him want to hurl. Like, it’s that bad.
So, after it hits me that a non-cheese lover person is standing right there in my kitchen, I go to Plan B. Pork Shoulder Ragù with Orecchiette pasta, no cheese. At all. Usually when I cook, I am only cooking for my family so – again, thinking these guys are going to be freakin’ hungry- I cook up almost 4 lbs of pork shoulder. I know. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking. Maybe I was just excited to cook up a larger quantity, I don’t know.
Needless to say, we had left overs. And lots of it.
Which brings us to this lovely Baked Mezzi Rigatoni dish that I made tonight. I successfully used up the rest of the pork shoulder ragù. And I must say, this Baked Mezzi Rigatoni was freakin’ delicious. I just had to say “freakin” one more time in this post.
When I think of baked pasta, I usually think of fattening ingredients like heavy cream and lots of cheese (like ricotta). Well, I tried to stay as healthy as possible with this one. There is no heavy cream and I added a lot of vegetables. . just how I like it! See, that’s the beauty of a baked pasta dish- you can throw in just about anything you want.
Variations: If you don’t have time to make the Pork Shoulder Ragù, just use your fave chicken sausage, ground turkey OR add no meat at all! Go vegetarian. It’s totally up to you.
I’m ready to curl up with a big, fat chunk of this and dig in. . and that’s what I’m going to do! And as for John, my non-cheese loving friend. It’s all good. I’m going to let this one go. . homeboy is scared of heights, conquered his fear and freakin’ climbed Mount Rainier. Woot Woot baby.
I hope you enjoy!
Baked Mezzi Rigatoni with Pork, Kale and Mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 cups of kale chopped
- 1 cup of zucchini chopped
- 1 cup of spinach chopped (fresh or frozen/thawed spinach)
- 1-2 cups of mushrooms chopped
- 1 large sweet onion chopped
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- ½ pound of Mezzi Rigatoni pasta or whatever pasta you prefer
- 3 cups of pork shoulder ragu or ground turkey, or sausage; whatever you prefer
- 1 cup marinara sauce; jarred store bought or canned
- about 2 cups of shredded or diced fresh mozzarella cheese; split
- ½ cup of light low-fat sour cream
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for garnish
- If using, prepare the pork shoulder ragu.
- For the baked mezzi rigatoni, preheat the oven to 375°. In a large, deep pan, heat the olive oil. Add all of the chopped vegetables and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and cooked, about 5-7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Meanwhile, in a pot of salted boiling water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain completely and cool under running water.
- After the pasta has cooled a bit, put it back into the same empty pot (trying to save some dishes here), and add the pork shoulder ragu, all of the cooked vegetables, additional marinara sauce, 1 cup of mozzarella cheese and the sour cream. Mix thoroughly.
- Pour all of your pasta mixture into a casserole dish and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella cheese if desired.
- Bake the pasta for about 30-35 minutes, or until golden. Let rest for at least 15 minutes. Sprinkle fresh parsley and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.