My interest in food and cooking goes back to my first restaurant job as a teenager, at an Italian restaurant called Pizza City East in my hometown of Plainview, NY. (There was also an original Pizza City on Crossbay Blvd. in Ozone Park, Queens.) It was there that I learned how to open clams by the bushel, how to make the perfect cappucino, and how to use basic restaurant kitchen equipment like the convection oven and the fryer. I peeled thousands of shrimp for scampi, washed barrels of lettuce for salads, and grated hundreds of pounds of mozzarella for pizza.
I also made baked ziti by the barrelful. It was much easier to make in large quantities than lasagna, and it basically contained all the same ingredients. No worries about making perfect layers. No pasta sheets sticking together. Just put all the ingredients in an oven-proof baking pan, mix them around and throw them in the oven. And it tasted great.
Now I make baked ziti, or shells, or elbows–whatever pasta I have on hand–at home, using gluten-free ingredients.
I substitute whole milk for the usual bechamel sauce used in many lasagna recipes. Since this dish is gluten-free, I can’t use the flour required to thicken bechamel sauce, and gluten-free flour doesn’t work here.
1 lb. regular or gluten-free pasta
2 lbs. (32 oz.) ricotta cheese
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
12 oz. mozzarella cheese, grated
1 cup whole milk
1 can (28 oz.) whole tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon parsley
In a bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, half of the mozzarella, and the milk.
Pour the contents of the tomato can in a blender and blend until smooth. Add this to the bowl and combine.
Add the granulated garlic, salt, oregano, basil, and parsley to the bowl and combine again.
Cook the pasta until just before al dente. You want it to be chewy because it will still bake in the oven. Drain the pasta and place it in an ovenproof baking dish.
Add the contents of the cheese and milk blend bowl to the pasta and stir thoroughly to combine. It’s going to be mushy.
Pre-heat the oven to 350°.
Top the baking dish with the rest of the mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle a little oregano on top. Bake for 30-45 minutes, until the cheese on top has melted and it’s bubbling hot.
Let it rest for about 10 minutes before serving.