Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Food: baked ziti the easy way

Baked ziti was a staple dish of almost every covered-dish, potluck, or shared-responsibility dinner I went to growing up.  The joke was that it wasn't really a local meal unless there was baked ziti.  But there is good baked ziti and bad baked ziti.  The bad is the kind that has little cheese except a sheet of cardboardy mozzarella from a bag on top and a smidgen of sauce in the "filling."  Not mine.  Mine is a cheesy wonder, which is how it should be.

For basic baked ziti, you need:

  • 1 pound of pasta, cooked until it's almost-cooked (about 2 minutes less than the indicated time on the package)
  • 1 regular-size jar of spaghetti sauce.  I use marinara sauce from Barilla a lot of the time, but Prego got me through it today.
  • 1 to 2 pounds ricotta cheese, depending on your taste.  Today was a 1-pounder day.
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella - not the little balls, but the blob that you can slice
  • Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • sprinkly Italian seasoning
If you haven't done it already, cook the pasta 2 minutes short of the cooking time on the box in salted water.

Get your 9x13" pan out.  Pour in the spaghetti sauce.  All of it.  Trust me.  Then, pour in the ricotta and mix it around until it looks pink and gross.  (It really is ugly to me.)

Pour your pasta in, and stir it until every single one of those little ziti noodles (or penne noodles) is covered in saucey-cheesy goodness.

Top it with the fresh mozzarella slices.  If you have extra, you can munch on it for a good treat.  Sprinkle the mozzarella with Parmesan and Italian seasoning.

Bake at 350 until it is bubbly, melty, and delicious.  Probably a good half hour to an hour will do.  But don't brown the cheese too much, because you want it to be moist and heavenly and not cardboardy and dry.


- vodka sauce with fresh mozarella balls (not ricotta) and chopped frozen spinach (thawed), topped with fresh mozzarella and parmesan cheese
- sausage and peppers in the sauce with the regular recipe.  A restaurant down in Endicott calls that "ziti rosso."  It's ahhh-mazing.
- alfredo sauce, chicken, and spinach, with tons of garlic and possibly broccoli.  And cheese on top.  Maybe breadcrumbs too.

Be creative.  Baked pasta is an amazing vehicle.  I even saw a variation once for mild sausage and a pumpkin-sage cream sauce that was heavenly... I think it was Paula Deen who came up with it...

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