Marathon Meal: Ziti, and Pear Crisp


Photo by joebeone/Flickr CC

Week 2
Total Mileage: 25 miles
Weekend Meal: Baked Ziti and Pear Crisp

If getting to eat (almost) whatever I want is the number one reason I enjoy training for marathons, the bragging rights it gives me with my younger brother is a close second.

In high school, Phil was captain of the football, basketball, and baseball teams. His bedroom is a shrine to athleticism: he has a chin-up bar in the doorframe to his closet, and his walls are plastered with words of wisdom on how to be a good pitcher. He's good at sports even when he doesn't try. I went to tennis camp every summer of my middle school life, and he could still beat me, six games to none, without ever having taken a lesson.

But he's never run a marathon, and until he gives up pickup basketball in favor of long-distance running, 26.2 mile-long races are my thing, the one athletic achievement I've accomplished that he hasn't. Instead of making me feel superior to my brother, though, marathon training actually helps me understand him, especially when it comes to food.

I planned the menu with my athlete's appetite in mind, deciding on two basic, filling dishes: baked ziti and a pear crisp.

Phil has simple tastes. He's the one heating up pigs-in-a-blanket on Thanksgiving while my mother passes out smoked salmon on pumpernickel bread. When my parents and I rejoice at getting a reservation at The Modern, Phil wants to know why we can't just go out for Chinese.

As I prepared for my first marathon in college, I found myself wanting Phil foods: pizza, bread, bacon, cookies-and-cream ice cream. I finally got why he went for simple but satisfying foods over ones with more complicated flavors. When you're working out a lot, you don't need a masterfully prepared red-wine reduction to make beef taste good—a medium rare hamburger hits the spot, thank you very much. The spoonful of peanut butter that sparked my love affair with running proves that point: when you're really hungry, any nutritionally dense food tastes like it came from a four-star restaurant.

When I volunteered to make Christmas Eve dinner this year, I knew December 24th fell at the end of my second week of marathon training. I planned the menu with my athlete's appetite in mind, deciding on two basic, filling dishes: baked ziti and a pear crisp. For the ziti, I used a family recipe that adds grilled chicken to the pasta, tomato sauce, and fresh mozzarella combination. It was Christmas Eve, so I couldn't resist adding a slightly fancier touch—I made my own tomato sauce instead of relying on the jarred version.

The pear crisp recipe came from the Pioneer Woman, a blog by an Oklahoma ranch woman named Ree Drummond who has hearty cooking down to a science. I'd made the crisp for a dinner party in the fall, and the five of us finished the entire thing in one sitting. My mother received a box of pears as a Christmas gift, so it seemed like the ideal opportunity to return to the recipe.

Phil peeled and diced the pears for the filling and chopped walnuts for the topping while I did my run for the day on the treadmill. (Another advantage of marathon training: you're motivated to run even on days usually reserved for gluttony.) When I returned from the gym, I mixed the pears with sugar and a dash of salt, then put the filling in a pie pan. The topping was similarly easy—just combine melted butter, sugar, flour, and those chopped walnuts and sprinkle on top of the pears.

Ziti is one of Phil's favorite dishes, and so he was overjoyed with the meal. Plus, he never turns down fruit mixed with sugar and topped with even more sugar. Even my parents appreciated a simpler meal that night. We were having stuffed mushrooms and roast beef with popovers and buche de Noel the next day, so it was a relief to have a less complicated meal in advance.

On Christmas morning, we went for a run together. Phil could keep up with me for only a mile or so, which gave me a momentary sense of elation—running is still my thing! But when we parted ways I found myself wishing I'd slowed my pace just so we could keep running together.