Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Trip-Baked Ziti

The morning we arrived in Salem was a dark and rainy one. After pulling into a parking garage near the Salem Visitor's Center, we hopped in the elevator and pushed the button for the ground floor. Instead of going down the elevator started going up to level 4, so again we pressed the button for the ground floor the elevator was now going down, but it stopped on 3, no one was there. Again we pressed the button, back up to 4 the elevator went. Finally it deposited us on the correct level but not without Dad and I making a crack about weird things happening in Salem.

We had a quick breakfast of bagels near the Visitor's Center before starting out on foot, through the sprinkling rain and over the wet puddles, to the Salem Witch Museum. Of course the museum turned out to be closed for another hour. Back towards the Visitor's Center we trudged in our wet shoes so we could wait indoors and out of the rain. Time passed quickly and we eventually made it inside the Witch Museum. Most museums are self guided hallways and large rooms filled with exhibits, relics and artifacts. The Salem Witch Museum begins with the story of the Salem Witch Trials, told through a voice over booming through a dark room while spotlights showcased a variety of mannequin filled dioramas. Once the history lesson concluded we exited to a smaller room with more dioramas while a tour guide explained each one. The tour ended by having us exit through a gift shop like a ride at Disney World.

By the time we exited the museum it had stopped raining, so we decided to walk across town to Nathaniel Hawthorne's "House of Seven Gables", his family home that inspired the book by the same name (one of my favorites from high school). After taking the requisite pictures of the house and wharf behind it we began to visit all of the little candy shops and witchy-poo boutiques that propagated the town. The more we walked and shopped the hungrier we got. Across the street from one of the shops we visited was a restaurant called The Witch's Brew Cafe. We stepped in expecting a touristy tea room type atmosphere or an all natural vegan kind of establishment. In reality it was the type of local New England pub that I thought only existed on television or in the collective memory of a generation gone by. The large, gruff bar-keep voiced his approval at our menu selections of an open-faced roast beef sandwich and a bbq burger with onions and peppers. While we were inside the rain picked up again and gale force winds began tormenting the small sea-side village. All of the signs that hung off of posts and flags flying off buildings looked like they were in a perpetual up-swing. Luckily for us the winds and rain died off just before we finished our meal and we were able to walk out into a relative calm.
Before leaving town we headed over to Pickering Wharf and visited a shop owned by Laurie Cabot, the "Official Witch of Salem". It was an authentic supply shop for witches and Wiccans alike and not a gift store for tourists to pick up bumper stickers or broomstick pens. I told this to Dad before we entered and made sure that he saved his wise-cracks for later!

We made it to Boston by early afternoon and quickly found a trolley service that would drop us off at various locations around the city. Starting at Faneuil Hall/Quincy Market we set off and explored the Old North Church of "One if by land..." fame and Paul Revere's home (after a little searching) near the Little Italy area of Boston. We managed to make it over to the USS Constitution, Old Ironsides, just in time to catch the last trolley of the day for a quick ride about town with some fascinating commentary by the driver. For dinner we decided to head back to Little Italy as we could no longer resist the tempting aromas of oregano and basil that filled the streets. We settled on the smallest trattoria I've ever been in called G'Vannis, where we had amazing baked ziti with meatballs elbow to elbow with the local couple sitting next to us.

Following our meal, we hoofed it back to Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market.There we perused little gift shops, looked at Christmas ornaments and visited the "Cheers" bar where everybody knows your name. On our way back to our hotel in Danvers, we drove by Harvard and poked light-hearted fun at the students walking by and those who obviously weren't and never were Harvard students (us included).

This is my recipe for Baked Ziti, not anywhere near as authentic as what we had Boston, but it's frequently requested by my husband so there must be something to it! I've made it with meatballs before and I've made it without the ricotta but I find this version of it to be a good starting point that you can adjust to your tastes.

Baked Ziti

1 lb ground beef
1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper
3 cups water
16 ounces ziti noodles
1/2 cup heavy cream
16 oz ricotta cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus 2 tablespoons
2 cups shredded mozzarella, divided

Brown ground beef in skillet, season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside. Meanwhile, pour the whole can of tomatoes into a blender or food processor. Process until the tomatoes are roughly chopped, not pureed.

Pour the oil into a large skillet or saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, basil and oregano and cook for about 1 minute. Pour in the chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Pour in the water, stir, and then add the pasta. Turn the heat back up to medium-high. Cook until the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes.

In a medium bowl combine ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, 1 beaten egg, and 1/4 cup Parmesean cheese. Set aside

Add the cream and remaining 2 tablespoons of Parmesan to skillet/ziti mixture. Stir well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in ricotta mixture until well blended. Pour mixture into a lightly greased 13x9 baking dish. Place in oven and cook at 425 for 30 minutes, sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese and continue cooking for 15 minutes or until the cheese has melted and slightly browned.

Me in Salem

Statue of Roger Conant, the founder of Salem

Witch's Brew Cafe

"Bewitched" statue



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