Photo Credit: E. Rosemond-Hoerr
Baked ziti is one of those dishes I return to time and again and it has yet to disappoint me. For six summers through high school and college, I was a lifeguard and swim instructor. With no expenses, my income was disposable, and I spent the lion's share of it on food. There was a pizza place close to the pool that, in addition to having great pizza, had awesome baked ziti. I would order it at least once a week, even on the days when the North Carolina sun baked the pool deck to temperatures well over 100 degrees.
Ziti is a tube shaped pasta similar to penne. Baked ziti combines all the elements of lasagna- sauce, ricotta cheese, Parmesan and pasta. I prefer ziti over lasagna because the sauce and cheese really have the opportunity to wiggle their way through the pasta and make the whole dish that much better.
One of the nice things about ziti is that it's also the perfect dish for freezing and eating whenever. I like to keep some sort of pasta casserole in my freezer, wrapped in individual pieces so that I can pull it out and reheat it on days when I just don't have it in me to make dinner. And, when this summer's rash of snow storm babies are born, baked ziti is the perfect dish to bring to the new parents.
¾ lb. ziti pasta
1 28-oz can peeled plum tomatoes
½ white onion
4 garlic cloves
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup fresh mozzarella
½ cup grated Parmesan
salt & pepper to taste
crushed red pepper
½ cup olive oil
Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a sauce pan. Chop your garlic and onion and saute until golden brown. Add the tomatoes and their liquid. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes; reduce the heat to a simmer. If you have an immersion blender, blend the sauce until smooth. If you don't, transfer the sauce to a food processor and blend. Return sauce to the pot and simmer for an hour, adding salt, pepper, and red pepper as needed.
Once your sauce has been cooking for 45 minutes, boil your pasta. Drain it, and stir in the remaining olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In a casserole dish, layer pasta, sauce, ricotta, and mozzarella cheeses. Top with parmesan.
Cover pan with foil and bake for 30 minutes; remove foil and bake for 10 minutes more.