Note: the Memphis area recently experienced two straight weeks of rain and cloudy skies. I had begun constructing a large boat out of gopher wood in the backyard, but fortunately the sun finally emerged. Hence the recent focus on slow-cooked comfort foods.
Baked ziti is mostly associated with Americanized Italian food, but there are similar recipes made in the old country. This dish had a starring role on The Sopranos, showing up after every funeral and appearing in every refrigerator. Who can forget such lines as "Where's the *@! ziti?" and "Who ate all the *@! ziti?"
Every family has their own "perfect" version of this dish, but as I'm unencumbered by actual Italian heritage and will not be disowned for deviating from Nonna's recipe, I decided to slap something together the other night.
I made a marinara sauce from scratch using whole peeled Muir Glen tomatoes. Great quality canned tomatoes, and the whole ones are the best for making any sort of sauce. (As tomatoes get damaged or bruised, they are processed as crushed or diced, and the lowest quality tomatoes end up in purées and pre-made sauces.) I blended the tomatoes, added a little garlic, some spices, and let it simmer for an hour to concentrate the flavors.
For pasta I used rigatoni, as the ridges help grab the sauce. I poured the cooked, drained pasta in with the sauce and then in the oiled casserole dish. Stir in some big dollops of ricotta (not enough to completely blend in), add some slices of cooked salsiccia, a layer of mozzarella and grated parmesan, and throw it all in a hot oven for half an hour.
It tasted great, but one of the true joys of baked ziti is that, like many casseroles, it improves with a day or two in the fridge. If you have some extra marinara lying around, you can add a bit to the pasta as you heat it up, but it's fine on its own.
The condensed recipe, more or less:
1 lb. tube-shaped pasta (rigatoni, penne, etc.)
30-40 oz. pasta sauce, canned or homemade
1 small tub ricotta cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded parmesan
Boil the pasta, heat up the sauce. Drain the pasta, add to the sauce and gently mix. Throw it all in a greased 9x13 dish and lightly mix in a few big dollops of ricotta. (If you want, you can add in some cooked sausage here, or leftover shredded chicken, or vegetables/mushrooms/whatever.) Sprinkle the mozzarella, sprinkle the parmesan, bake at 400°F for half an hour... Done!