Something for the Kids
If I had children, I’d send them to school with this every friggin day.
Beats a squished bpj, don’t you think?
I don’t have kids. I have John. Guess what he’s been eating all week lately. He loves it.
Baked Ziti is a new discovery of mine. I guess because it’s less work than lasagna and it’s fun, I’ve been making it on Sundays for the sole purpose of sending it with John for lunch during the week. See my thoughts on leftovers, if you’re confused. It’s involved enough that I enjoy making it, but not so involved that I can’t do it every week. AND there are so many ways to change it to suit your needs. Hell, you can even buy sauce instead of making it. You can use meat instead of mushrooms. You have friggin quadruple the cheese if you want. Deliciousness.
Baked Ziti (Inspired in part by Cooks Illustrated)
Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease a 13″ x 9″ lasagna-type pan. Fill a large stockpot with enough water for a pound of pasta and put it on the stovetop to boil.
Roughly slice 2 onions and 4 carrots and peal 4 cloves of garlic. Heat a little olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat and put the onions, carrots, and garlic in the pan. Cook until soft.
Meanwhile, put in a blender: 1 green pepper, 1 medium hot pepper (like a jalapeno or serrano pepper), 4 stalks of celery, including leaves, and 1 28 oz can of tomatoes. Add a teaspoon each of dried oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Add a few grinds of black pepper. Add the now-softened onions, carrots, and garlic. Blend.
Thinly slice as many small mushrooms as you’d like. Brown them in batches over medium heat with a little olive oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven. Alternatively, brown some ground beef if you’d like and drain the fat. Add the blended sauce and bring to a simmer. Once it’s simmering, add a bay leaf, about 1/4 cup of red wine, and salt, to taste. Bring back to a simmer and reduce the heat and cover (but make sure it’s still simmering). Simmer for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on your patience. Taste and salt as needed.
[This makes about 8 cups of sauce, which is also great served over pasta. If you don't have the time of patience, get a couple of jars of premade sauce and don't tell anyone!]
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together 1 cup of cottage cheese, 1-2 oz of mozzarella cheese (or more, if you wish. I added some parmesan too.), and one egg.
Once the sauce is almost done and the pasta water is boiling, add a box of any shape pasta you’d like (doesn’t need to be ziti, just make it a shape. Maybe not so much with the bowties.). Cook until al dente and drain. In the still-hot pot, add 2 cups of the lovely, aromatic sauce you have simmering, and the cheese mixture. Stir and add the pasta to the mixture. If you’d like, add some spinach as well (I did!) and stir well.
Add a couple of cups of sauce to the prepared pan, followed by the pasta mixture. Cover with the remaining sauce and grate some more mozzarella cheese on top. Smile to yourself and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the cheese has browned and the sauce is bubbling.