Our obsesssion with baked ziti stems from every gangster movie we’ve ever watched, and seeing slices of crispy NYC pizza topped with the stuff.
So when Mother Nature lost her effing mind this week, plunging us into a deep-freeze, we knew it was ziti time.
Only we couldn’t decide which of our two hoarded baked ziti recipes to try. So we combined them AND IT WAS FREAKING FANTASTIC. A bit of a Bittman/Rachael Ray mashup — Bittman’s simple tomato sauce and sausage with Ray’s rich bechamel nestled on top. It was the perfect mix of red and white sauce.
We did make use of some chopped celery and carrot we had lying around, and a splash of red wine was a good excuse for opening yet another bottle…
We love how simple this is. No ricotta or eggs necessary. The secrets here are easy: undercook the pasta, and use cubes or curds of cheese in the middle so you get surprise pockets of molten cheese.
Time: about an hour
Salt and pepper
1 pound Italian sausage, preferably bulk or ground meat of any type, or a combination
1 large onion, diced
1 tablespoon minced garlic, optional
1 28-ounce can tomatoes, chopped, with liquid (we’re going to try adding a half a cup tomato sauce to make it clingier, although the sauce was great as is.)
1 pound ziti or other large cut pasta
1 pound mozzarella, grated and chopped
Olive oil or butter as needed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
White Sauce (although we halved this amount for calories’ sake.)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 fresh or dried bay leaf
Freshly grated nutmeg
Bring large pot of water to boil; salt it. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Distribute meat in large skillet over medium high heat and cook, undisturbed, until browned on one side, about 5 minutes. Stir, cook another 2 minutes undisturbed, then add the onion and garlic, if using. Lower heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft; add tomatoes and bring to a boil. Simmer while cooking pasta, stirring and seasoning with salt and pepper to taste; do not let sauce become too thick.
Once you have the red sauce working, make the white sauce: Place a medium-size saucepot over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the flour, stir to combine and cook for about a minute. Whisk in the milk, add the bay leaf and season with some salt, pepper and a couple of grates of nutmeg. Bring up to a bubble, turn the heat down to low and gently simmer, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and discard.
Cook pasta until just tender; it should still be too hard to eat. Drain it (do not shake the colander; allow some water to cling to the noodles) and toss it with the sauce and half the mozzarella. Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and spoon mixture into it.
Top with the white sauce. Sprinkle the mozzarella and grated Parmigiano over the top, transfer to the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, until top is browned and cheese bubbly, 20 to 30 minutes.
Yield: 6 servings.