BAKED ZITI, CLASSIC OLD-SCHOOL ITALIAN COMFORT FOOD

Posted: November 24, 2020 in Food, Italian, pasta, Recipes
Tags: , , , , , ,

Unless you’re Italian, you’re probably not going to have any pasta as part of your Thanksgiving meal. So after you’re done with all the turkey, and all the leftovers, this old-school Italian comfort food might be exactly what you’re looking for!

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.

When I got older and I shared an apartment with my buddy, Don, we would regularly invite a large crowd of people over for a party, and a huge tray of baked ziti was an inexpensive and hugely popular way to feed a crowd that was doing some serious drinking.

The basic ingredients of baked ziti are the same as lasagna, the main difference being the wetness factor. If you make lasagna too wet, the thing will fall apart when you try to slice it. But baked ziti is meant to be sloppy, and it actually shines in its incredible gooiness!

My baked ziti consists of a meat sauce and 4 cheeses (ricotta, mozzarella, provolone, and Parmigiano Reggiano) using pasta that is boiled much firmer than al dente. Technically, I like to use penne, not ziti. It’s firmer, and really works well with this recipe. And there are plenty of great pasta choices out there for gluten-free diets. Our favorite brand of GF pasta is Garofalo.

I used to add a béchamel sauce to this recipe, but I’ve found that plain milk does the job just as well. Béchamel is better used in lasagna, where you want a bit of a thickening agent to keep it firm.

Gooey and delicious!

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 teaspoon granulated garlic
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, garlic 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.

Beautiful baked ziti!

4 slices provolone cheese (about 4 oz.), chopped
ricotta cheese (about 8 oz.)
mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 8 oz.)
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1 cup whole milk
12 oz. small pasta, like ziti or penne

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the provolone, ricotta, mozzarella (save a little bit to sprinkle on top at the end), Parmigiano Reggiano, and milk. Add this mixture to the meat sauce and mix well.

For baked ziti, I use a deeper pan than I would for lasagna, about 4″ deep.

Boil the pasta in a pot of salty boiling water until very firm…firmer than al dente. Drain the pasta and pour it into the pan. Add the cheese and sauce mix and mix it all really well.

Smooth the top of the ziti mix flat with the back of a large spoon, then sprinkle the remaining mozzarella evenly over the top. Sprinkle a little oregano on top, and place the pan in the oven to bake for 30 minutes, or until the mozzarella on top is a beautiful golden brown.

The best mac and cheese ever: baked ziti!

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. […] BAKED ZITI, CLASSIC OLD-SCHOOL ITALIAN COMFORT FOOD — Live the Live ™ […]

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