If you've been reading this blog lately, you'll know that 2 days ago I described the many reasons I love my test kitchen Zojirushi bread machine.

I mean, I feel like Ron Popeil, the Ronco guy:  "It slices, it dices, and so much more!"

Well, the Zo doesn't slice-and-dice.

But "so much more"?

You betcha.

Try baked pasta. And not just an “empty-nester” version, but a complete dinner, enough to serve 8 to 12 fairly hearty eaters.

Really, the Zo is like one of those tiny circus cars, whose doors open to emit 16 clowns: Spoon the baked pasta out of the bread machine bucket and it'll fill a good-sized serving bowl – the equivalent of a 2-quart casserole dish.

And all without heating up your oven, or being left with a bunch of pans to clean.

One frying pan. One bread machine bucket, easily rinsed clean in warm soapy water.

And a whole lotta love for your BFF in the kitchen, the Zo.

First, let's make some Savory Cheddar Cheese Bread to go with the baked pasta.

This tasty cheese bread is baked right in the Zojirushi bread machine.

So, how come it doesn't have the holes in the bottom from the paddles?

Read on...

First, the cheese. For best flavor, choose an assertive cheddar. Cabot Racers' Edge or Extra Sharp are both good choices, as is a good sharp Wisconsin yellow cheddar.

Put the following in the bucket of your bread machine:

1 cup lukewarm milk*
3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese, firmly packed
1/4 cup Vermont cheese powder**
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 to 1 teaspoon tabasco sauce, optional
*Add an additional tablespoon of milk during the winter, or if you live in a dry climate.
**Substitute grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Program the machine for basic bread, light crust setting.

Press Start.

Check the dough after about 10 minutes of kneading; it should have formed a cohesive ball, and be slightly sticky. Adjust its consistency with additional milk or flour, if necessary.

Once you've checked the dough, you can walk away and come back in a few hours to find a warm loaf of baked bread.

Or, you can fuss with it a bit, and make an even better loaf.

Here's the bread after its second rise. It's about to head into its third and final rise. Looks pretty good, but... wish it was spread out a bit more.

And I'd so like to NOT have to deal with those big paddles once the loaf is baked; they make it hard to get the loaf out of the pan intact.

Solution?

Once the dough has completed its second rise, take it out of the bucket. Remove the paddles.

Shape the dough into a nice log, and replace it in the bucket. (No, there's no need to grease the bucket; it's wonderfully non-stick.

Let the machine complete its cycle.

3 hours, 25 minutes after you started...

...a perfectly shaped, golden loaf.

One that comes out of the pan without a fuss.

On the left, a loaf made without removing the paddles after the second rise. I had to fight to get it out, and actually dropped it on its head in the process, squashing the top crust.

On the right, the loaf made with the paddles removed.

And check out their respective bottoms. On the left, the bread with the paddles removed prior to baking. Hardly a mark.

On the right, the bread with the paddles left in. BIG divot.

Let's take one more look. On the left, the loaf made from dough that wasn't reshaped prior to baking. On the right, the loaf I reshaped before it baked.

Quite a difference, eh? My theory is that shaping the bread by hand, folding it over and rolling it into a log, lends structure it wouldn't otherwise have; structure that translates into height as the loaf bakes.

So, if you want to pursue this semi-hands-on bread machine baking, how do you know when to remove the paddles and reshape the loaf?

For the Zo CEC20, their newest model, it's easy. Simply select basic bread; and make sure the preheat cycle is off (easily done; simply press and hold the TIME and CYCLE buttons together for at least 3 seconds, until PREHEAT OFF appears in the display).

Set a kitchen timer for 88 minutes; press START on the bread machine, and on your timer.

Exactly 88 minutes later, the machine will stir down the dough for the second and final time. Lift it out, remove the paddles, shape the loaf, replace, shut the cover, and walk away. You're done.

The older Zo X20 is a bit trickier, as its cycles have some wiggle room, time-wise. When I tried this in our X20, with the preheat cycle off, it took 78 minutes to reach the second stir-down. But according to the instruction manual, it could take 83 minutes, or 88 minutes. The first time you do this, you'll want to be hanging around the machine starting at 78 minutes, just to make sure. Going forward, it'll probably replicate that first time you observe.

If you want to avoid all of this, simply program the machine for the dough cycle, or your own homemade cycle (to avoid that pesky preheat cycle). Take the dough out of the machine when it completes the cycle, and bake it in a standard loaf pan (8 1/2" x 4 1/2") in your oven. About 35 minutes in a 350°F oven should do it.

Either way – nice loaf, eh?

Next up: the main course.

Smith Family Pasta Bake, a tasty combo of pasta, onions, cheese, and tomato, lightened and enriched with a creamy, milk-based sauce.

Sauté 4 cups chopped onions and 3 peeled, crushed garlic cloves in 4 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil, until the onions are soft and golden. This will take about 15 minutes.

Stir in 1/2 cup (2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour.

Gradually add 4 cups milk, stirring until smooth and thickened.

Like this.

Add 1 1/2 tablespoons prepared Dijon mustard, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, and 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional). Stir to combine.

What if you don't like mustard? Don't add it. Ditto salt, pepper, or nutmeg. None are critical to the recipe's success or failure, structurally speaking; they simply help create its rich flavor.

Next up: 3 cups pasta sauce, a.k.a. one standard 24-ounce jar.

I buy Newman's Own when it's on sale - it's really tasty, and the company donates part of the proceeds to charity.

Pour the sauce into the onion mixture.

Add 2 to 3 tablespoons sugar, if desired. I always add sugar to pasta sauce; I feel it cuts the acidity of the tomatoes. But if you're not used to doing this, use the sauce straight.

Stir to combine, and remove from the heat.

Remove the paddles from your bread machine bucket. Spray it with non-stick vegetable oil spray; we use Everbake here in the test kitchen, as it doesn't leave any sticky residue on the pan.

Next, you're going to need the following:

1 pound pasta, about 6 cups (uncooked): shells, ziti, rotelli, elbows, etc.; choose your favorite shape
3 cups packed, shredded cheese; a mixture of Parmesan and mozzarella is tasty

First, pour about 1 1/2 cups (about one quarter) of the pasta sauce into the bucket.

Add 2 cups (one third) of the uncooked pasta...

...and about 1 cup (one third) of the cheese.

Repeat the layers, finishing with sauce and cheese. Here's how it goes:

1. sauce (1 1/2 cups per layer)
2. pasta (2 cups per layer)
3. cheese (1 packed cup per layer)
4. sauce
5. pasta
6. cheese
7. sauce
8. pasta
9. sauce
10. cheese

Sprinkle the top with pizza seasoning, if desired.

Use the homemade menu to program for "bake only," 70 minutes.

The keep-warm option is — well, optional, if you want to keep the casserole warm for awhile after it's baked.

Press Start.

Come back 70 minutes later to find a bubbling, golden pasta casserole.

Scoop out and serve.

Hmmm, which of the above dinner items was NOT made in the bread machine?

Kind of obvious; though who knows... using the Zo as a hydroponic seed starter for lettuce? I see real possibilities here!

And, lest we forget dessert: Easy Chocolate Pudding Cake is truly easy when made in your bread machine.

Looking for more "beyond bread" recipes for your Zo? Try peach cobbler, Sloppy Joes, and creamy risotto.

And, file this away for Thanksgiving: scalloped potatoes, classic bread stuffing, and homemade cranberry sauce.

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Savory Cheddar Cheese Bread; and our recipe for Smith Family Pasta Bake.

Print just the Savory Cheese Bread recipe.

Print just the Smith Family pasta bake recipe.

Filed Under: Recipes
PJ Hamel
The Author

About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!