Sunday Pasta ® Recipe: Pasta al Forno (Baked Ziti)
Pasta al forno, or baked pasta (ziti in this case), is a triple comfort food. First, although almost any type of pasta can be used, the very thought of “baked ziti” is sure to bring back warm memories from years ago, when it was a staple at school functions and family gatherings. And then, there is the physical comfort that comes when you taste the hot, oozing mixture of cheese and sauce, especially on a cold day. And finally, there is the heart-felt praise you receive for serving it. My own kids sprang from their chairs to hug me when they tasted it. So this winter, go for an Italian comfort food trifecta. You’ll be thrice warmed. Though I do offer one word of caution: Although I am certain about the nostalgic impact and the delicious recipe, whether you actually earn the hugs will depend on your own culinary skills and personality. Unfortunately, these things are beyond my control.
Start to prepare the sauce:
Chop the onion and fry it in the olive oil until golden brown. Puree the tomatoes and add to onion. Add the basil, salt, and pepper. Cook on low heat, uncovered for 1 hour until reduced.
While the sauce is cooking, prepare the Ricotta mixture:
In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, parsley, Parmigiano, salt and pepper. Cut the mozzarella into pieces and mix in 3/4 of it into the ricotta mixture.
Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for 1/2 of the packages' recommended time (it will continue to cook in the oven). Drain the pasta and add it to the ricotta mixture. Mix in 1/2 of tomato sauce. Coat the bottom of an oven proof bake pan (9 x 12) with a spoonful of sauce. Add the pasta mixture to the bake pan. Cover with the remaining mozzarella, a sprinkle of Parmigiano and a few spoonfuls of the tomato sauce. Bake uncovered at 350 for approximately 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve immediately with a spoonful of sauce and a sprinkle of Parmigiano.