When Nora was still a wee newborn, the in-laws came out to visit us. As I thought was prudent, I made it clear to anyone planning to visit us within the first few weeks that they would be there not only to see the baby, but to help take care of some cooking and cleaning, too.*
* I highly recommend this to anyone having a baby. You’ve got to make sure everyone’s expectations are the same or you may end up playing hostess with a newborn attached to you 24-7. Doesn’t sound like fun to me!
I fondly remember my mom making a batch of chocolate chip cookies from my recipe, since I had craved them for weeks. My mother-in-law made an absolutely delicious baked ziti from a recipe that we had clipped from the San Francisco Chronicle, but not gotten around to trying before we received our (slightly) early arrival. I have dreamed about it ever since.
It was, to my mind, the perfect baked ziti. It had ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan cheeses mixed right into the sauce. Into the sauce, people! No less important, it turns out that it is also rather easy to make, especially when you do the heavy lifting ahead of time and then just slide it into the oven to bake when it’s almost dinner time. I finally got around to making it again last night, and I was not disappointed — memory had served me well. And now I’m going to have some leftovers for lunch. Glorious.
- 1 28-oz can tomato puree (San Marzano preferred)
- 1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 onion, halved
- 2 Tbsp butter
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 lb penne rigate or ziti (preferably whole wheat)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- ½ lb high-quality ricotta cheese**
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 12 oz grated mozzarella (about 1½ cups)
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- Place a medium saucepan over medium-low heat and bring the tomatoes, onion halves and butter to a steady simmer. Simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season to taste with salt, and add the oregano to finish. Discard the onion halves, cool the sauce slightly and set aside. The sauce can be made up to 2-3 days in advance.
- Preheat the oven to 325°. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to package directions until slightly firmer than al dente. Drain, and toss with all but 1 cup of the tomato sauce.
- In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, cream, egg, mozzarella and half of the parmesan. Fold the cheese mixture into the sauced pasta.
- Spread the mixture into a 13 x 9 or similar-sized baking dish. Spread the remaining 1 cup sauce over the top, and sprinkle with remaining ½ cup parmesan. Cover with foil, and bake for 25 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the foil, and place the pan under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes to melt the cheese on top. Serve hot.