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Microwave . . .

A Super One-Dish Pasta Dinner

August 18, 1988|JEAN ANDERSON and ELAINE HANNA | Anderson and Hanna are nutritionists and cookbook authors specializing in microwave cookery. and

Let's make one thing clear at the outset. We're not recommending that you cook a whopping kettle of pasta in the microwave. Quite the contrary. This is one job that's better done on top of the stove.

What we are suggesting is that you boil the pasta the old-fashioned way, then team it "en casserole" with eggs and cheese, set in the microwave to emerge 10 minutes later as Three-Cheese Ziti Ring, a rib-sticking one-dish dinner the whole family will love.

This kind of culinary choreography means you can put dinner on the table twice as fast as you could if you prepared everything the old-fashioned way. It also teaches several useful principles of microwaving.

Quickness and Uniformity

For example, if you use the microwave to speed-heat milk for an egg-thickened mixture, it will cook more quickly and uniformly.

Second, the ziti ring, like other egg mixtures, must be microwaved on MEDIUM so it doesn't curdle or turn rubbery. When properly cooked, it will still be a little soft in the center. Fear not. It will firm up as it stands. (A foil covering will keep it hot.)

Finally, cooking the ziti mixture in a ring mold isn't purely for looks. The ring allows microwaves to penetrate the food both from the outer edge in and from the center of the ring outward, meaning that fragile egg-thickened mixtures will cook more evenly throughout.

You'll note that we call for an ungreased ring mold, for good reason. In the microwave, the ziti ring actually steams rather than bakes and thus won't stick to the mold. Greasing the mold would merely attract microwaves and possibly overcook the outer portions of the ziti ring.

THREE CHEESE ZITI RING

1/2 pound ziti, cooked and drained

2 cups soft whole-wheat bread crumbs

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1 cup shredded Swiss cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup diced pimiento

2 tablespoons minced parsley

3 eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 cup minced green onions

1 3/4 cups milk

Mushroom Sauce

Combine ziti with bread crumbs, Cheddar, Swiss and Parmesan cheeses, pimiento, parsley, eggs, salt and pepper in large bowl. Set aside.

Place green onions and milk in 1-quart measure and microwave, uncovered, on HIGH (100% power) 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 minutes until small bubbles appear around edge. Stir into ziti-cheese mixture.

Spoon into ungreased 2-quart ring mold, cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on MEDIUM (50% power) 9 to 10 minutes, rotating mold 180 degrees after 1/2 cooking time, until just firm. Small soft area midway between edge and center will set on standing.

Cover with foil and allow to stand 10 minutes. Invert on heated platter and gently ease cheese ring out of mold. Serve with Mushroom Sauce, prepared by microwave while ziti ring stands. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Mushroom Sauce

2 cups coarsely chopped mushrooms

1/4 cup butter or margarine

1/4 cup flour

2 cups milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

Dash black pepper

Microwave mushrooms in butter in 2-quart casserole, covered with paper towels, on HIGH (100% power) 3 1/2 to 4 minutes until limp, stirring after half the cooking time.

Mix in flour and microwave, uncovered, on HIGH 30 seconds, until foamy. Mix in milk, salt and pepper and microwave, uncovered, on HIGH 4 1/2 to 5 1/2 minutes, stirring after 2 1/2 minutes until sauce boils and thickens. Stir again before serving. Makes 2 1/2 cups.

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