Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Arteries are Evil and Must Be Punished!

My first memories of baked ziti are from the Maryland House rest area Sbarro's.  Growing up, my parents and I drove to Rhode Island a few times a year to visit family and we always stopped at Maryland House for lunch or dinner.  I was a weird kid; I didn't like pizza or hamburgers.  So I always ended up getting the baked ziti and thought it was the best thing ever, especially if they would drown it in marinara sauce for me.  Then I grew up to be a food snob and no longer appreciated rest stop baked ziti.  Now that summer is over and DC is getting cold again, I decided to make some comfort food in the form of my own baked ziti.  Well, not really mine, it's from Mario Batali's cookbook.  But whatever.

I'd like a side of Lipitor, please!

This dish makes a ton of food.  You can live off of leftovers for days.  Definitely scale it back if you don't want a few containers of this in your fridge. This recipe originally called for a stalk of celery but I didn't want to buy an entire bunch of celery just to use one stalk.  I know myself and my husband pretty well, we wouldn't use the rest of it.  So I left it out.  Apparently the ricotta, caciotta, and tomato sauce are to be mixed in one bowl and the meat and pasta in another, and then it's supposed to be layered in the baking dish.  I was in a hurry and completely ignored that step by accident.  I mixed everything together and it still turned out to be delicious so in my opinion it's totally ok to just mix everything in one bowl, it's faster.

Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Ham
Slightly adapted from Molto Italiano by Mario Batali
Serves "8" but works for two people plus a ton of leftovers


3 Tbsp olive oil
1 lb parmacotto (Italian cooked ham), cut into 1/2 inch cubes (the deli sliced mine and it was fine)
8 oz caciotta (or hard provolone, which is what I used because I couldn't get caciotta), cut into small dice
1 carrot, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 cup dry red wine
3.5 cups of Mario Batali's Basic Tomato Sauce (below)
1.5 lb ziti
l lb fresh ricotta
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano


1) In a Dutch oven or other appropriately sized pot, heat the oil until very hot.  Then add the ham and brown for 5-6 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Then add onion and carrot.  Cook for another 10 minutes or until the vegetables are browned.  
2) Add the red wine, bring to a boil, and then allow it to reduce by half, about five minutes.  Add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil again.  Then reduce heat to low, cover the pot, and cook for approximately 20 minutes (if using sliced ham) or 50 minutes (if using cubed ham).  Set the mixture aside in a large bowl (it will need to hold the other ingredients later). Keep the sauce warm. 
3) While the meat mixture is simmering, cook the ziti for one minute less than specified by the package.  Reserve 1/4 cup of cooking water. 
4) While the pasta is cooking, put the ricotta in a small bowl and add some of the hot cooking water to melt it. 
5)  Drain the  pasta and add to the meat mixture.  In a separate bowl, mix the ricotta, caciotta, and tomato sauce.  
6) Grease a baking dish.  Ladle some of the cheese/sauce mixture along the bottom of the dish.  Then add a layer of the pasta and meat mixture.  Sprinkle 2-3 Tbsp of parmigiano on top and repeat until all of the ingredients are used. 
(Alternatively, mix everything together, put it in the baking dish, and top with parmigiano). 
7) Bake for 25 minutes or until heated through.  

Basic Tomato Sauce

From Molto Italiano by Mario Batali
Makes a lot (freeze it in 1 cup servings).

1/4 cup olive oil
1 Spanish onion cut into 1/4 inch dice
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
3 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme or 1 Tbsp dried thyme
1/2 medium carrot, finely grated
2 28 oz canned San Marzano tomatoes (or peeled whole tomatoes if you can't get San Marzano), crushed by hand and juices reserved

1) In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Then add the onion and garlic.  Cook until the onions are soft and brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.  Then add the thyme and carrot and cook for another 5 minutes.
2) Add the tomatoes and juice, and bring to a boil, stirring often.  Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the sauce is as thick as hot cereal (this is a weird analogy for me, just eyeball it and stop cooking it when it looks right to you!) Season with salt.

This sauce can be kept in the freezer for a long time.  I recommend making the full recipe or even doubling it for later use.

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