edible adventures from the centre of the universe

22 May 2006

Impromptu Baked Ziti

To celebrate our friend Paul's birthday this past weekend, Dave and I decided to have a few people over for dinner. Somehow (read: while distracted by the Oilers' improbable playoff run), we managed to leave the small problem of deciding what to serve until the last possible minute. Damn you, Roloson, and your shiny, shiny mask!

So, with four hours until our guests were set to arrive, we decided to serve some sort of baked pasta dish - the quicker and easier, the better. Although I had no prior experience with Baked Ziti, I had a feeling that it would be pretty simple to throw together. This suspicion was confirmed with a quick look at a few recipes, summarized thusly: throw pasta in a pan with meat and sauce (and sometimes ricotta), smother with cheese and bake until yummy.

I decided to use my standby Smoky Marinara Sauce recipe (originally from Cooking Light magazine), but add spinach for a change. I thought ricotta would be a nice touch, so I threw it in with some fresh herbs. Since Paul is a meat-eater, but I'm not, I added spicy sausage to one ziti, and roasted zucchini to the other. With caesar salad and garlic bread, we were set!

Despite the thrown-together nature of this meal, it turned out great. This recipe makes a tonne of food, but it can be easily frozen so you have a prepared dish next time you're entertaining unexpectedly (or expectedly, if you're a procrastinator like me). This recipe may also be halved if you aren't feeding an army, and you don't need a buttload of pasta in your freezer. Enjoy!

Baked Ziti
2 lbs dry ziti pasta
475 g container of light ricotta
2 tbsp chopped italian parsley
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
3/4 cup grated fresh parmesan
3 1/2 cups grated mozarella
6 spicy italian sausages (or 4 medium zucchinis*)
1 batch smoky spinach marinara (recipe follows)
salt & pepper to taste

1.Grease two 9x13 inch baking pans and preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2. Make smoky spinach marinara sauce. Set aside until ready to use.
3. Saute sausages until cooked through. Remove sausages from pan and slice into rounds. Set aside until ready to use.
*To make a vegetarian version of this ziti, slice zucchinis into rounds 1/4 inch thich. Toss slices with a small amount of olive oil and salt/pepper, and roast on a baking sheet in a 450 degree oven for about 10 minutes (until they start to brown). Set aside until ready to use.
4. Mix together the ricotta, parsley, basil, 1/4 cup parmesan, and 1/2 cup mozarella in small bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside until ready to use.
5. Boil the pasta in lots of salted water until al dente. Drain well.
6. These instructions are to assemble one of the zitis - repeat these instructions in the second pan once the first has been assembled: Cover the bottom of the baking pan with a small amount of marinara sauce. Place 1/4 of the cooked pasta into the pan, on top of the sauce. Dot the pasta with 1/2 of the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle 1/2 cup mozzarella over the ricotta. On top of the ricotta and mozarella, spread 1/2 of the sausage (or zucchini). Place 1/4 of the cooked pasta on top of the sausage/zucchini, and cover the pasta with about 1/2 of the remaining marinara. Finish the pan with 1/4 cup parmesan and 1 cup mozarella.
7. Optional: At this point, you may want to freeze one (or both) of the zitis. To do so, cover the baking pan in plastic wrap and then tin foil. Freeze on a flat surface to avoid a huge mess. Once you are ready to bake your frozen ziti, let it completely defrost in the fridge overnight before proceeding to step #8.
8. Toss your ziti into the 375 degree oven, uncovered, and bake for about 30-40 minutes, until the cheese on top gets nice and golden (previously frozen ziti may need a little longer). Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Each pan will feed about 6 people (this recipe feeds 12 total).

Smoky Marinara Sauce with Spinach
1 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tbsp chopped fresh italian parsley
4 cups chopped spinach leaves
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
28 oz can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes (I use Muir Glen brand, found in the organic section of the supermarket)
28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup water
salt & pepper to taste

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until it begins to turn golden.
2. Pour both cans of tomatoes into saucepan. Add water, parsley, basil, oregano, vinegar, and salt and pepper. Stir to combine and simmer for about 10 minutes.
3. Add spinach to sauce and stir to combine. Cook just until spinach wilts, and then remove from heat.

This sauce is very versatile, and is great on all kinds of pasta dishes.



Anonymous Paul said...

And it was awesome tasty! I even had some of the zucchini ziti in one my roughly three trips to the kitchen. Best meal since that time Bob took me to the malt shop to celebrate my election to the school athletic club.

9:09 AM

Blogger Alana said...

I hope you brought pepper spray on that date, Paul.

4:29 PM

Blogger Ladysir said...

Bob is such a date rapist.

Ladies, I think we can agree that Tom is the only true gentleman. And he wants me to mention that the pasta was delish.

10:31 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my Gosh! This is delicious! One of the best recipes I ever got off the internet. I was looking for something with zucchini and ziti. Thanks!

1:44 PM


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