The toaster oven is an indispensable item in the China expat home. When I lived in Nanjing for a year I didn’t have one, and honestly I don’t know how I got by. Well, I do know. I never cooked.
I scored one from a friend of a friend who left China a few months ago and my life has forever changed. Even though it is really tiny, I use it for everything. I bake cookies (albeit in very small batches), I roast vegetables, I make toast, and most importantly, I bake pasta.
I am a big fan of baked pasta; lasagna, ziti, spaghetti, you name it. In my Shanghai kitchen, pretty much whatever I have on hand goes in the pan. It’s great because it usually ends up being 2 or 3 meals for me, and that’s nice because I often feel lazy after work and don’t want to cook.
As many people know (and some people might not), cheese is not part of the Chinese diet. Luckily for me, I live in a huge city with lots of foreigners, so I can find most kinds of cheese. They are very expensive, so I try not to use it a lot. Most of the time I like to add in ricotta cheese to the sauce when I am baking a pasta. It makes it creamy and more tasty. However, here in China I tend to stick to one kind of cheese per dish lest I spend an entire paycheck on cheese alone. This week, I made a baked macaroni with zucchini and caramelized onions. Delish.
- pasta sauce
- 1 onion
- olive oil
- 1 zucchini
- fresh basil
- Italian cheese blend
- salt & pepper to taste
- First you will want to caramelize the onion, as that can take up to 30 mins depending on the size. Heat a pan of olive oil or butter (or both) over med-low heat and add the chopped onion, slowly cooking until caramelized.
- Slice the zucchini relatively thick, and cook with desired method (I used a grill pan, but you could saute or roast)
- Boil pasta until al dente
- chop desired amount of fresh basil
- In a large bowl, mix cooked pasta, sauce, zucchini, onions, a little cheese, and salt & pepper
- Place in baking pan and top with more shredded cheese
- Bake in a (toaster) oven set to 350 for about 30 minutes, until the cheese on top is bubbly and brown
I didn’t really add amounts to the ingredients or instructions, because it really depends on how many people you are feeding, what size oven and pan you are using, and personal taste. Plus for a pasta bake, there is no wrong answer. Cooking is all about experimentation, and being an expat is all about stuffing your face with cheesy pasta. Enjoy!