Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Baked Ziti

Baked ziti is the Italian-American version of mac & cheese. The dish is filling, cheesy and so easy to make.

Growing up, baked ziti was a staple at every event — family reunions, birthday parties, any gathering, really. The meal is even immortalized in many episodes of HBO's The Sopranos.

This is also the dinner to bring to a potluck or to deliver some cheer to a favorite family. Add a bottle of wine and a green salad or dessert and you'll truly make someone feel loved.

Baked ziti is perfect for a friend with a newborn, the new neighbors down the street, or a fellow parent with kids who needs a night off from having to prep dinner (friends, you know who you are!) Since I live too far away from Erin to bring a freshly-cooked meal to her door, let's consider today's blog post my way of sending her some virtual home cooking in celebration of baby Elaine's arrival!

Keep in mind that baked ziti is designed to serve a crowd. Each 13 x 9-inch tray will satisfy a group or feed a family of four more than once. Baked ziti is also great for stocking your freezer.

This recipe is made for customizing. I like to add provolone cheese to mine. You can change the pasta shape, but do note: the tubular ziti traps the sauce and cheese inside the pasta, which makes it taste even better.

You can't really mess up this meal. Any sauce and cheese combination that you and your family love will taste delicious baked up with some ziti-shaped pasta.

Mangia! Mangia!

Baked Ziti 

1 pound ziti pasta
2 to 4 cups of homemade tomato sauce or 1 jar of your favorite tomato sauce
2 to 3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
1 pound (or less) ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded provolone, or 4 to 5 slices, cut into thin strips
1 or 2 teaspoons basil
1 or 2 teaspoons oregano
1 teaspoon garlic powder or 2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup shredded or grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat over to 375 degrees. Spray a deep lasagna pan or baking dish with cooking spray. The pan should be at least a 9x13x2-inch size. If your family is small, divide the recipe into two deep 8 x 8 pans. Cook one and freeze the other.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well. Place pasta in large bowl.

Add 16 ounces tomato sauce and all other ingredients except the Parmesan cheese and a 1/2 cup to 1 cup of mozzarella cheese. Feel free to add more or less tomato sauce and cheese to suit your taste.

Mix well so that everything is combined.

Tip: My mom and my brother just mix everything up right in the baking pan, but whenever I do that I end up accidentally shooting a few spoonfuls onto the floor. So I use a bowl.

Transfer pasta mixture to prepared baking pan. If you like, top with more tomato sauce (I skip this step.) Top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheese. You can throw in some provolone here, too.

For freezing: Wrap baking dish in foil and freeze for another day. When you are ready to cook the baked ziti, follow the instructions below after it has thawed in the fridge.

Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes to an hour or until the ziti is browned on the edges and bubbly. If the cheese on top starts to brown, cover it with foil for the rest of the cooking time.

Remove from oven and let cool for 10 or 15 minutes. Serve with a side of extra tomato sauce and your favorite wine.

At my house, my husband and sons fight over who gets the crunchy corner pieces, like this one.

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