Back in the day when I could eat anything I wanted and not look like I'd developed basketball sized tumors in my ass, I looooved to get baked ziti from Two Cousin's Pizza in Camp Hill, PA. It was so damn good, they had a layer of ricotta in there and covered it all with melted mozzarella. However, I haven't been to Two Cousin's in years, and it is a friggin challenge to find baked ziti of comparable quality. So last night when the craving struck, I convinced myself that trying yet another local Italian dive's ziti would only yield the same dissapointing results. And further convinced myself that dammit, if I could rock the stuffed shells I could definitely turn out a good baked ziti. Stuffed shells, manicotti, lasagna, and my vision of baked ziti are all pretty much the same thing and revolved around my love for all things ricotta.
Stuffs Baked Ziti
1 lb dry ziti or penne
4 cups tomato sauce (homemade is best-recipe follows!) (Keep 1/2 cup seperate) 1 15oz container whole milk ricotta
2 cups shredded mozzarella
1 cup good parmesan
10 sweet basil leaves chopped small
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350F.
Cook the pasta just short of al dente, 2 minutes less than directions call for. Drain well and mix with 3 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce.
Mix the ricotta with the egg, parmesan, basil, pinch of salt and 1/2 tsp pepper.
Coat bottom of 9x13 roasting pan with remaining 1/2 cup of sauce to prevent sticking. Lay down half of the sauced noodles, cover as evenly as possible with the ricotta mixture, then lay down the rest of the noodles.
Cover top layer with the mozzarella and bake 30 minutes or until hot in the center and bubbly at edges.
Serve with Stuffs Garlic Bread (recipe follows).
How freakin easy is that?? I totally got my ricotta fix without the time consuming process required for stuffed shells or lasagna. If I had made the sauce ahead of time the whole thing would have taken less than 1 hour to make.
Basic Tomato Sauce:
Makes 4 cups
2 28oz cans peeled whole or crushed tomatos (try to get brand with no added ingredients)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium sweet onion chopped small
4-5 cloves garlic crushed
2 tbs tomato paste
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp sugar (optional)
chopped basil (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
**Optional: 1 lb lean ground beef
Heat olive oil over medium in large dutch oven or pot, add onion, red pepper flake and garlic and cook 5 minutes until soft and fragrant.
Add tomato paste and cook in center of pot 2 minutes.
Add tomatos (if using whole run them in a food processor or blender for a second to break down) and scrape any caramelized bits off the bottom of pot. Season with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste, (**if you want meat sauce now is the time to add approximately 1 lb cooked lean ground beef)simmer over medium low 30 minutes. Add sugar and basil at end of cooking if desired. Use immediately or freeze for future endeavors!
Stuffs Garlic Bread
1 loaf good Italian or Portuguese Saloio bread, sliced 1 inch thick
1 stick salted butter, very soft
3 cloves garlic, pressed or chopped very small
fresh cracked pepper
2 tsp olive oil
Turn oven to broil.
Mix the soft butter, oil, garlic and pepper in bowl until thoroughly combined and spreadable. Spread onto bread slices and arrange on cookie sheet.
Broil on top rack approximately 7-10 minutes until lightly browned on top, take care not to burn the garlic!