While my drinking buddy is snow-blowing the 16 inches of white stuff that was dumped on the northeast coast, I’m feeling hygge (Danish for coziness) inside. Alexa is playing my Amazon playlist as I scurry around the kitchen, readying bowls, pots, casserole dish, and the endless number of ingredients for Rachael Ray’s Two Sauce Baked Ziti. I love the idea of using both a tomato sauce and a bechamel in baked pasta dishes as I did in my Leftover Baked Spaghetti Casserole recipe in my Boozy Lifestyle book. I’ll be using only sweet Italian sausage instead of the three-meat combo (and chicken livers?!) that Rachael uses, plus adding shredded mozzarella cheese in place of some Parmesan.
My first order of business is to decant the 2015 bottle of Montresor Amarone della Valpolicella. Amarone comes from the Veneto region of northeaster Italy. It is made from Corvina (or Corvinone, now recognized as a distinct variety), Rondinella, and other approved varieties in smaller amounts. Amarone is unusual in that the grapes, picked in bunches, are dried for a few weeks before being pressed. This gives the wine a raisin-y aroma and flavor. Amarone is typically aged in oak for five years before being released.
Montresor Amarone has a unique satin-finished bottle that was patented in the early 20th century by winemaker Giacomo Montresor to protect the wine from sunlight during transport. He was an artist and painter and designed the bottle’s curvy shape in the form of a classic wine flask.
Since our Montresor Amarone was a gift, I don’t know the price, but found that it falls into the Best Value category (around $35) according to Wine Searcher. On the nose are aromas of spices, tobacco, and dried fruit. The palate is raisin-y with notes of cherry, anise, and vanilla. It has a pleasing tartness without overly bright acidity. The finish is medium length with slightly firm tannins. It seems capable of aging longer.
I refer to a recipe such as this one as a “project” when it causes me to use more than a pot, a bowl, and a cutting board. I needed three pots: one for pasta, one for the sausage and red sauce, and one for the bechamel. Also, a casserole dish (9×13 inch or equivalent) for baking, a mixing bowl for the ricotta mixture, and cutting board for the garlic and onion. I used a few measuring cups but also free-styled some ingredients. When I was finished, the kitchen looked like a cyclone hit it.
Ingredients for the meat pot:
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound (about 5) sweet sausages with fennel, casings removed, broken up into pieces
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 or 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary
- Salt and black pepper
- ½ cup white wine/sherry
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (Tuttorosso is my brand of choice)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 pound ziti
- 1 cup ricotta cheese, drained
- 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon dried parsley
- Salt and pepper
Ingredients for the bechamel pot:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup milk
- Salt, white pepper and nutmeg, to taste
- A handful grated Parmesan cheese
- For the meat sauce, brown sausage in olive oil for 12-15 minutes. Then add onions, thyme, garlic, salt, pepper, and rosemary, and cook 10 minutes more. Add wine and let it absorb; then add tomatoes and bay leaf and simmer 30-40 minutes.
- Cook pasta al dente (5 minutes) in salted boiling water. Reserve 1 cup starchy cooking water then drain and run pasta under cold water to cool.
- Combine ricotta, half of the mozzarella, eggs, Parmesan cheese, parsley, salt, and pepper in bowl.
- For the béchamel, heat a saucepot over medium heat, add butter and melt. Whisk in flour then milk, season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg to taste. Cook on low for 5 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- Toss pasta with all of the meat sauce and reserved cooking water. Pour half into an oven-proof casserole dish. Spread ricotta mixture over the top with a spatula. Add remaining pasta and meat sauce, and top casserole with béchamel and rest of the shredded mozzarella. Bake uncovered for about 20 minutes until cheese browns a bit.
The wine is often emptied before we get around to eating but for this meal, I restrained myself and saved a glass to drink while dining. I’m so glad I did since the baked ziti with sausage and Amarone was a fine pairing. Following the meal, we broke out the Noval 10-year Tawny Port with a couple of Lindt dark chocolate truffles. Life is good.
I had planned to make a salad to accompany the baked ziti but was pretty wiped out after the prep and cleanup. That’s okay, there’s plenty of ziti for the next day and I’ll have the time and energy for making salad then. Unfortunately, that was my only bottle of Amarone.