Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated (March/April 2009, pg. 15)
This, my friends, is pretty much Italian comfort food at its best. Baked Ziti can be vegetarian/meatless or you can add some Italian sausage for a different twist. Half of this recipe feeds my family of 4 (2 adults and 2 grade school children) for two meals. It is easy to make even a single recipe and freeze in smaller containers for later or to take a meal to a friend.
1 pound whole milk cottage cheese
2 large eggs
3 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 pound ziti
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 – 1 pound Italian sausage (optional)
5 medium garlic cloves (minced or pressed)
1 (28 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves (or 1 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt/Pepper to taste
1 teaspoon corn starch (2 teaspoons if using whole milk instead of cream)
1 cup heavy cream (or whole milk)
8 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese (cut into 1/4 inch pieces)
You will also need:
Large stock pot / dutch oven
12 inch skillet or another stock pot / dutch oven
13x9 inch baking dish
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Place 4 quarts of water in the large stock pot and bring to a boil. While the water is heating, move on and do other things to get the sauces ready. Once the water is boiling, add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water then the pound of ziti. Cook the ziti for 5 minutes. Drain pasta and leave in colander. Do not wash the stock pot. Take it immediately back over to the stove. You’re about to use it again.
Lightly beat eggs in a medium bowl then whisk in cottage cheese and 1 cup of grated Parmesan. Set aside.
If using sausage, remove from casings. Put olive oil in the skillet and bring up to medium heat and add in sausage while breaking up into small pieces. Cook until no longer pink. Add garlic and cook until fragrant but not brown. Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, oregano and basil (if using dried). Simmer until thickened (about 10 minutes). Off heat, stir in 1/2 cup of basil (if using fresh), sugar, and salt/pepper to taste.
Stir cornstarch into heavy cream (while it’s in the measuring cup) and pour into the (now empty) stock pot and put over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened (3-4 minutes). Remove pot from heat and add cottage cheese mixture and 1 cup of tomato sauce. Allow to cool just slightly then stir in 3/4 cup of the diced mozzarella. Stir well to combine. Add cooked pasta and stir to thoroughly coat with sauce. (Pasta will likely be all stuck together, but will gently come apart as it gets coated with the sauce.)
Transfer pasta mixture to 1 13x9 pan or two smaller pans and spread remaining tomato sauce evenly on top being sure to cover as much of the exposed pasta as possible. Sprinkle the remaining diced mozzarella and grated Parmesan on top. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until bubbly and cheese on top begins to brown. Remove from oven and allow to rest/cool for 10-20 minutes. Garnish with fresh basil on top if available.
(My apologies for the complete lack of pictures. I have no explanation other than I just have been too into eating this dish to take any.)