Baked ziti, also known in our home as lazy man’s lasagna, is one of the first meals my son John learned to make when he was in his college apartment. That’s because it is one of his favorite meals—if it’s not #1, then it’s definitely in the top three. It’s one of my favorites as well, and I’ve been making it for close to 40 years now.
My Uncle Ben used to have it on the menu at our family restaurant and told me the secret was to add some melted butter to the cooked pasta which would also help the Romano cheese stick to the ziti so that every bite would be flavorful. I played around with it until I got it just right, and the whole family has enjoyed it for all these years.
After John got his own apartment this fall, I decided to make baked ziti for his first Sunday visit back home. Since Roger and I have been watching our carbs, I decided to make the ziti in an aluminum pan so that I could just cover it after dinner and send the leftovers back with John along with a container full of sauce and meatballs. I also made him a batch of chocolate chip cookies and sent along some steak chili which I had frozen for him. As is usual when a kid moves out, John still had some of his belongings to pack up and take with him as well. When the time came to leave, his trunk was full and so was the back seat of his car. His apartment has only street parking, and his apartment is on the 3rd floor so I knew he would have to make several trips to get everything.
The next morning, John called Roger (he knew better than to call me) and asked if the baked ziti would still be okay to eat after sitting out in the car all night on a warm evening. He had missed seeing it in the dark and “forgot” it in the car. Seriously? Gah!
Well, at least the chocolate chip cookies made it. Sigh…
- 1 lb. ricotta
- 1 beaten egg
- 1 tbl. fresh parsley, chopped (optional)
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 1/4 cup freshly grated Romano cheese, divided
- 1 lb. ziti (or mostaccioli or rigatoni), cooked al dente.
- 4 tbl. (1/2 stick) melted butter
- 4 to 6 slices of white American cheese (or 1 to 2 cups Italian blend cheese or mozzarella)
- Double batch of homemade spaghetti sauce
While ziti is cooking, mix ricotta in a large bowl with beaten egg and 1/4 cup of the Romano cheese. Mix in a little chopped fresh parsley if using. Sprinkle with a little salt and a couple of turns of fresh pepper. Set aside.
When ziti is cooked, drain and put ziti back in pan you used to cook it. Pour the melted butter over it and toss until all of ziti is coated. Sprinkle ziti with remaining cup of Romano cheese and toss until cheese is evenly distributed. Add ricotta mixture to ziti.
Fold in ricotta, rather than stirring. The end result when you look at the mixture should be clumps of ricotta interspersed throughout the ziti. You don’t want to overdo the mixing and have the ricotta melt or break down.
Spread thin layer sauce on the bottom of a large lasagna/roasting pan. Spoon the ziti over the pan.
Tear or cut the American cheese slices into quarters. Evenly distribute over top of ziti. (If you prefer, you could substitute a cup or two of Italian blend cheese or mozzarella to sprinkle over the top.) Drizzle sauce over the top of ziti. Cover about half the top with sauce so that half the ziti is showing through.
Bake at 400o for 30 to 40 minutes, until sauce is bubbling and edges of top layer of ziti start to turn light brown. Alternatively, if you want ziti to remain totally soft (as my kids did when they were little), stretch some wax paper over top of pan followed by a layer of aluminum foil. Don’t seal it tight; allow it to remain vented. Make sure foil doesn’t touch tomato sauce or the foil will melt onto the ziti.
Source: A frantastic original