LASAGNA AND ITS COUSIN, BAKED ZITI

Posted: September 23, 2018 in Food, Italian, pasta, Recipes
Tags: , , , , , ,

As a teenager growing up on Long Island, I worked long hours at a local Italian restaurant called Pizza City East in Plainview. (The original Pizza City was in Ozone Park, Queens.) Though the pay sucked, I made some important friendships that have lasted to this day. I also learned many Italian cooking basics: how to open clams for red and white clam sauce, the secrets of great pizza dough, the art of a perfect espresso, and how to make massive quantities of baked ziti.

The basic ingredients of baked ziti are the same as lasagna, and I make one or the other depending on my mood or what I’ve got in the cupboard. I also like to make my lasagna a little dryer, where baked ziti shines in its incredible gooiness.

My lasagna usually consists of 2 sauces (a meat sauce and a bechamel sauce) and 4 cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, and Parmigiano Reggiano) using pasta that is boiled much firmer than al dente. I like real pasta, not the no-boil sheets, because I think the flavor is better. I’ve tried the no-boils, and I’ve found that they don’t cook evenly. Sometimes you get a nice soft bite and other times it’s completely raw and pasty. There are plenty of great brand choices for lasagna sheets these days, and that includes gluten-free varieties.

lasagna

 

Meat Sauce…
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 lb. grass-fed ground beef or pastured pork, or a combination of both
1 tablespoon dried parsley
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes
extra virgin olive oil for sautéing

 

Heat a tablespoon or 2 of olive oil in a large pan and sauté the onions until translucent. I finely chop the carrots by peeling them all the way down until there’s nothing but a pile of peeled pieces, then chopping them up so small, they almost melt into the sauce. Add the carrots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the beef (or pork) and cook the meat until it browns. Add the parsley, oregano, basil, salt and pepper and mix well.

Empty the can of tomatoes into a blender and blend it until smooth. Add this to the pan and mix well.

Cook the meat sauce for about 10 minutes, then remove it from the heat and set it aside.

Hint: I’ve found that no-boil pasta sheets suck up a lot more moisture than already-cooked pasta, so I make my sauce a bit runnier than usual when using the sheets.

 

Bechamel sauce…
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoon all-purpose flour (I use Cup4Cup flour to make it gluten-free)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 cups 2% milk

 

Bechamel is a basic white sauce. It adds a wonderful creaminess to my lasagna or baked ziti.

Melt the butter in a saucepan under medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until you’ve combined the butter and flour and have a light roux.

Add the milk, and keep whisking, making sure you don’t get any lumps in the sauce. Season with the salt and pepper.

Keep whisking until the sauce thickens. Once it does, remove it from the heat and set it aside.

 

A special 4-cheese all-bechamel sauce lasagna, before cooking.

 

I made 2 different versions this last time. Having tomato allergies and on a gluten-free diet, my wife got a 4-cheese all-bechamel gluten-free lasagna all to herself. It baked up nicely.

4-cheese gluten-free lasagna, after baking.

 

12 oz. lasagna pasta sheets (boiled or no-boil)…or 12 oz. small pasta, like ziti, elbows or penne
4 slices provolone cheese (about 4 oz.)
ricotta cheese (about 4 oz.)
mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced (about 4 oz.)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

If you’re using regular pasta, boil the lasagna sheets in a pot of salty boiling water until very firm…firmer than al dente. Drain the pasta and run cold water over it to stop the cooking process. The pasta will want to stick to itself, so work quickly. Adding a drop of olive oil can help.

Lay a thin layer of the meat sauce at the bottom of the lasagna pan, which will keep the lasagna from sticking. Then start your layers: a layer of pasta, a thin layer of the Béchamel sauce, the 4 slices of Provolone, a layer of pasta, a layer of the meat sauce, small teaspoon-sized dollops of the ricotta, another layer of pasta (press down occasionally to remove air bubbles), another thin layer of Béchamel, the Parmigiano Reggiano, more pasta, more meat sauce, etc….

Make it as thick as you like. I like to cover the final layer of pasta with the meat sauce and then finish the dish with the mozzarella, sprinkling a touch of oregano on top.

Place the lasagna pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until bubbly. Shut the oven off, but leave the pan in for another 10 minutes, then serve.

The baked ziti version, using elbow pasta this time, before baking.

 

If you’re making a baked ziti version, your job is a lot easier. Take the cooked, drained pasta and pour it into the pan. Add the meat sauce and some bechamel sauce. Stir in the ricotta, torn up pieces of the provolone, grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and even a few small chunks of mozzarella. Mix it well. Then place more mozzarella on the top, and bake it in the oven for about 30 minutes.

The best mac and cheese ever: the baked ziti version, substituting elbow pasta for lasagna sheets.

 

Of course, when you’re cooking, there’s always someone hanging around to grab a taste of the baked ziti before it goes in the oven…

 

 

 

 

 

Comments
  1. mistimaan says:

    Looks yum

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.