It’s Election Day, which means if you have a pulse, you’re probably nervous/exhausted/fearful/insert any other stressed out adjective here. Let’s face it: The world is a Dumpster Fire, and we could all use a little extra comfort. Enter: Baked Ziti.
All too often, this dish does not get the care and respect it’s due. Gloppy chunks of crappy mozzarella float in a sea of under-seasoned tomato and overcooked noodles. It can and should be so much better!
The most important thing to remember when making baked ziti is to toss all the ingredients (minus the cheeses that garnish the top) together in a bowl before placing everything in the well-oiled baking dish. This ensures the tomato properly amalgamates with the pasta water clinging to the noodles while also coaxing out the highly desired pasta starches.
Although this recipe is titled Baked Ziti, I never use ziti. Its smooth texture does not hold sauce well. I prefer a short tubular pasta shape with ridges, which aide in capturing the sauce.
- 1 batch Marcella Hazan’s pomodoro (you will only need about ¾ cup for this recipe, but it freezes beautifully)
- 1 pound dried pasta, preferably a short ridged pasta like penne rigate, mezze maniche, or rigatoni
- 1 bunch basil, leaves picked
- 4 ounces mozzarella, torn into large pieces
- 6 ounces ricotta
- 2T heavy cream
- Zest from 1 lemon
- 1 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
- Black pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Drizzle a 9X13 inch baking dish with olive oil and set aside.
Set a large pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, fold together the ricotta and heavy cream with the lemon zest, a few cracks of black pepper, large pinch of salt, and a drizzle of olive oil. Set aside.
Once the water is boiling, liberally season the water with salt. Cook the pasta to just under al dente. If cook time is 7-9 minutes, I normally shoot for 5-6. Pasta should still have plenty of toothiness to it.
Drain the pasta and reserve a coffee mug of pasta water. Toss in a large mixing bowl. To that add a couple glugs of olive oil and toss well. Add ¾ cup pomodoro, the basil leaves, couple grinds of black pepper, half the ricotta, and half the parm. Toss vigorously to amalgamate the mixture. If the mixture is tight, enough pasta water to slightly loosen the mixture, roughly 2-3 tablespoons. It should easily fall off the spoon.
Spread the pasta mixture evenly in the baking dish. Top with the mozzarella, then dollop the ricotta on top. Drizzle with olive oil and bake until golden brown and bubbly, 25-30 minutes. Let sit for 30 minutes to cool and set slightly before cutting into it.