Thursday, May 08, 2008

A big favorite for me to watch on teevee at the gym is Everyday Italian with Giada De Laurentiis. Watching Italian comfort food being made by a gorgeous woman who is as slim as a stick, whilst sweating away on the treadmill? Yes, I'm sick like that.

One of the best things about cooking that is so easily forgotten in the sea of 30 step recipes and exotic ingredients is how easy and fun it can be. De Laurentiis brings that to her Italian kitchen.

The other day she made a tortellini bake that looked so delicious and was so easy to make that I could remember the basic recipe all the way home. But even so, luckily, with the internets, the recipe wasn't hard to find and I could double-check my memory.

The thing is, even if I hadn't found it, it would have been okay. It is exactly these types of recipes that put some joy into cooking, and help beginner cooks gain confidence and become better, because 1) you can fudge the ingredients a bit or add your own flair and probably still come out with a decent dish, and 2) it is so easy that even someone with limited cooking experience can put something stellar on the table.

I made this for my husband for one of his birthday week special dishes and he raved. But like De Laurentiis always says: pasta, marinara, cheese -- how can you go wrong?

Cheesy Baked Tortellini

my tip: don't whisk the marscarpone into the cold sauce -- too much work! Wait until you add the hot pasta and use the heat to melt the marscapone to blend and coat the pasta. I also like to add a bit of cayenne pepper to the marinara mixture -- the heat with the smoked mozzarella is a really nice combination.

Olive oil

2 cups marinara sauce
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 pound purchased fresh cheese tortellini (or dry tortellini)
2 ounces thinly sliced smoked mozzarella
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8 by 8 by 2-inch baking dish.

Whisk the sauce, mascarpone cheese, parsley and thyme in a large bowl to blend. Cook the tortellini in a large pot of boiling salted water until just tender, about 2 minutes
(for fresh). Drain. Add the tortellini to the sauce and toss to coat. Transfer the tortellini mixture to the prepared baking dish. Top the mixture with the smoked mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover and bake until the sauce bubbles and the cheeses on top melt and begin to brown, about 30 minutes.

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