Monday, March 25, 2013

Dreamy Baked Ziti

I've tried several recipes for Baked Ziti in the past and none have been remarkable.  Not bad by any means- how can pasta, tomato sauce, and cheese be bad?- but forgettable.  Until tonight!  Last week I came upon this recipe at Mel's Kitchen Cafe (it's originally from Cook's Illustrated Magazine) and I just knew we would love it.  Turns out I was absolutely right!  It's nice and creamy (but not too creamy) and the herbed tomato sauce goes with it perfectly.  The melted, golden cheese on top is the crowning glory.  If you are like us and love the pasta, tomato sauce, and cheese combo, definitely give this recipe a try!  And just as nice is the fact that this recipe is pretty quick and easy to get going, only about half an hour of prep time before it slides into the oven.  My search for a fantastic Baked Ziti recipe is definitely over and I can't wait to make this for my in-laws when they visit next!

Quick note: I've both tweaked and simplified this recipe a bit.  Basically, I commit the cardinal sin among parmesan cheese and just use a container of shaved parmesan.  Also, instead of cooking the cream with the cornstarch to thicken it, I just stir both ingredients in with the cottage cheese mixture and it ends up thickening perfectly in the oven.  Saves time and dishes!  Oh and if you're leery of the cottage cheese, don't be- it's very good in this dish and apparently Cook's Illustrated baked a version with ricotta but discovered that the ricotta dried it out.

Dreamy Baked Ziti

1 lb ziti or rigatoni
2 T olive oil
5 cloves minced garlic
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
15 oz tomato sauce
1 t dried oregano
1 T dried basil
1/2 t black pepper
1 t sugar
1 t salt (or to taste)
1 lb cottage cheese
2 eggs
1 C cream
6 oz oz grated or shaved parmesan, divided
8 oz cubed mozzarella cheese, divided
1 t cornstarch
1 t salt
1 t dried parsley

Preheat oven to 350 and grease a 9 by 13 pan and a piece of aluminum foil.  Cook pasta in salted water until almost tender.  It will continue cooking in the oven.  While pasta cooks, heat olive oil over medium and saute garlic until golden.  Stir in tomatoes, oregano, basil, pepper, and sugar, reduce heat, and simmer about 10 minutes.  Add salt to taste.  While pasta and sauce cooks, stir together all other ingredients except for half of the parmesan and half of the mozzarella cubes.  When pasta has finished cooking, drain and then stir in cottage cheese mixture and about 1 cup of the tomato sauce.  Spread pasta mixture in baking dish and top with remaining tomato sauce, spread to cover.  Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cubes and parmesan and cover with aluminum foil.  Bake 30 minutes, remove foil, and bake 30 minutes longer or until nicely golden and bubbly.

Yield: About 10 servings

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