Stir Crazy: No matter how it's spelled, mostaccioli is a wedding staple

May 13, 2013 

Mostaccioli. I can never spell that word. Every time I have to use it --and as a food writer it does come up -- I have to look the word up, or spellcheck it. I pride myself on being an excellent speller, but mostaccioli flummoxes me; it doesn't spell anywhere near how it's pronounced: maa-sta-cho-lee.

I bring up the confounding word ("little mustache" in Italian) because I had a long and funny conversation on the phone the other day with a reader named Tony. He's a guy in his late 20s and he's been to six weddings in the past year; a groomsman in three. Three in St. Louis, two in Kansas City and one in Evansville, Ind. Guess what was on the dinner buffet at every reception? Yep. Baked Mostaccioli.

Tony said the only time he's ever eaten the dish has been at weddings. I had to stop and think. Me, too, mostly. I did have it last year at my brother's house in Tinley Park. It was delivered along with the pizzas he ordered.

Tony, being a modern guy with some cooking skills, wondered if he could make it at home for a party, sort of as a joke for some of his newly married friends. Absolutely, I told him. It's not a difficult dish to make at all.

This recipe can only be made better by using salsiccia, a mild Italian sausage, instead of ground beef. You'll find it at any supermarket along with other sausages. Feel free to doctor this casserole. Add more garlic if you like it; omit mushrooms if you don't. (I've never actually eaten them in mostaccioli.) And if you can't find the smooth mostaccioli pasta, substitute penne or ziti. No one will know the difference and you can still call it .... mostaccioli.

Baked Mostaccioli

8 ounces uncooked mostaccioli

1 1/2 pounds ground beef or salsiccia sausage

1/2 cup chopped onion (or 2 tablespoons dried minced or 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder)

1 garlic clove, minced

1 can (28 ounces) diced tomatoes

1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce

1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste

1 can (4 ounces) sliced mushrooms

1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1 bay leaf

2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese

1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, cook beef and onion over medium heat until no longer pink. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Drain.

In a bowl, combine tomatoes, tomato sauce and paste, mushrooms, water, salt, sugar, basil, pepper and bay leaf. Stir into pan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cook mostaccioli, leaving it a little underdone; drain.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Discard bay leaf in saucepan. Stir in cooked mostaccioli. Spoon half into the baking pan. Sprinkle with mozzarella; layer with remaining meat mixture. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Cover and bake 30-35 minutes, or until heated through. Remove cover last 10 minutes to brown top. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Yield: 10-12 servings.

If made as shown here and with part-skim mozzarella, 1 piece (of 12) has 271 calories, 11 grams fat, 49 mg cholesterol, 593 mg sodium, 23 grams carbohydrate, 3 grams fiber, 20 grams protein.

Scratching your head trying to come up with yet another way to serve grilled chicken? Here's a quick pair of additions to chicken breasts from Taste of Home.

Barbecue Jack Chicken

4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (6 ounces each)

4 slices pepper Jack cheese

1 cup barbecue sauce

Carefully cut a pocket in each chicken breast half. Fill with cheese; secure with metal or soaked wooden skewers.

Grill chicken, covered, over medium heat or broil 4 inches from the heat for 6-8 minutes on each side, or until a thermometer reads 170 degrees, basting frequently with barbecue sauce.

Yield: 4 servings, each with 120 calories, 4 grams fat, 31 mg cholesterol, 572 mg sodium, 8 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 11 grams protein.

-- Simple & Delicious, July/August 2006

Here's how to reach me: Phone, 239-2664; e-mail, sboyle@bnd.com; or write, Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.

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