Thursday, May 10, 2012

Rustavi: An American Dinner

I don't particularly care to cook. This has caused a little consternation to my hostesses, "Nino" and Nely, but both have been gracious.

I assured Nely that when Pam and Kate came to visit from the U.S., they would enjoy some good American cooking, at last.

And so it came to pass. Unfortunately, Pam could only spend five days in Georgia, but Kate had more time, so she retrieved the recipe for one of her signature dishes, ziti, from a friend via email. Below is the recipe:

Baked Ziti with Spinach and Tomatoes

Bon Appétit |  November 1994
by Carmela M. Meely: Walnut Creek, California


  • 3/4 pound hot Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 28-ounce can diced peeled tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup purchased pesto sauce
  • 10 ounces ziti or penne pasta (about 3 cups), freshly cooked
  • 8 cups ready-to-use spinach leaves (about 2/3 of 10-ounce package)
  • 6 ounces mozzarella cheese, cubed
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)


Heat heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add sausage, onion and garlic and sauté until sausage is cooked through, breaking up meat with back of spoon, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes with juices to pan. Simmer until sauce thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Stir in pesto. Season sauce with salt and pepper. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to simmer before continuing.)
Preheat oven to 375° F. Lightly oil 13 x 9-inch glass baking dish. Combine pasta, spinach, mozzarella and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese in large bowl. Stir in hot tomato sauce. Transfer mixture to prepared baking dish. Sprinkle remaining 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese over. Bake until sauce bubbles and cheeses melt, about 30 minutes.

Note:  I usually use the entire # of sausage. 1 large onion, 4-5 garlic cloves, 3 regular cans tomatoes, more pesto, 1# of ziti, and allof the 10 oz bag of spinach.  I usually save a little bit of the sauce to put on the top – helps keep the pasta from drying out.

Note from Mzuri: Note that the above note is not mine; it's Kate's friend's. 

Kate and I went on a shopping expedition to the newest supervmarket in Rustavi. The manager escorted us about the store, translating for us and ensuring we found what we wanted. We discovered we'd have to make our own pesto, as it wasn't available in a jar. Note that my references to "we" actually mean "Kate."

We used the traditional spicy Georgian sausage "kupati" for the hot Italian sausages, a nice Georgian sulguni cheese for the mozzarella, and an imported hard Dutch cheese to stand in for both the Romano (for the pesto) and the parmesan.   

Laden with our goods, we took a taxi to Nely's place and commenced to the preparations. Kate was the chef; I the assistant, as in cutting and chopping stuff. When we arrived at Nely's, we saw that Nely and Tatia had already set the dining table beautifully. We made a few minor changes to achieve an American-style of setting for authenticity.

I made iced tea, both sweetened and not. We'd bought ice cream for dessert. Kate brought crisp, coconutty thin cookies from Entree in Tblisi to stick into the ice cream.

We knew we'd have some of Irakli's good wine for dinner-time consumption.

A sidebar: An English-language student asked me what a traditional American dish was, but before I could answer, she said, "Oh, I forgot. Americans don't have any traditional dishes. Maybe a hot dog"? Haha, Georgians like to joke that Americans have no culture or tradition because we are so new compared to them. I rejoindered with the question: "What do Georgians do with the good cuts of meat off their cows and pigs? Export them to other countries and save the bones and gristle for themselves?" Er, maybe I asked that question before I got the no-culture comment. Whatever.

Our dinner party guests included Nely, Tatia; Tatia's other grandmother, Ketino; my former hostess, "Nino;" her son, "Giorgi;" Nely's son's friend, Malkhaz; Nely's daughter-in-law, Eka, and her mother; and Paata and Eka's daughter, Baya; Kate, and a TLG colleague. I was very happy that my former hosts, "Nino" and "Giorgi," could be there.

Over coffee and dessert, Irakli pulled out his guitar and sang. He also accompanied little sister, Baya, and his mother, Eka, on a rendition of Kargi Gogo. Nely also sang along.

At 1:16 in the above video, former hostess "Nino" is on the left and current hostess Nely on the right. The large beer bottle actually holds black wine made by Nely's husband, Irakli.

Former host, "Giorgi," is on singing Irakli's left in the above video. Giorgi is Nino's son. Ketino, Tatia's other grandmother, is sitting between Giorgi and singing Baya and her mother, Eka.


Jen2010 said...

Some nice memories and a good opportunity for Kate to show off your American cooking skills! You didn't say what they thought about the dinner......?

Mzuri said...

The family and guests reported they loved it! It was such a pleasant evening.