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. 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 heartfelt praise you receive for serving it. My own kids sprang from their chairs to hug me when they tasted it. So if you make it, you’ll be in for an Italian comfort food trifecta. You’ll be thrice warmed. But some words 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 your personality. Unfortunately, these things are beyond my control.
In a large skillet over medium heat, sauté the onions until they’re golden brown. Add the tomatoes to the onion. Add the basil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered for 1 hour or until reduced.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
In a large bowl combine the ricotta, eggs, parsley, 2 tablespoons Parmigiano, ¾ of the diced mozzarella and the remaining salt and pepper.
Cook the pasta for half of the manufacturer’s directions. Drain, and add it to the ricotta mixture. Mix in half of the tomato sauce. Coat the bottom of a 9 x 12 inch baking pan with a spoonful of sauce. Add the pasta mixture to the pan. Cover with the remaining mozzarella and Parmigiano and a few spoonfuls of tomato sauce. Bake, uncovered, at 350º F for approximately 30 minutes or until the top is golden brown and the sides are bubbling.
Serve immediately with a spoonful of sauce and grated Parmigiano.