When I started reading the first line in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” I assumed it was going to be an homage to comfort food. If I truly started counting the ways I love comfort food, it would take me into next week.
Comfort Food Does Indeed Give Me Comfort
The main reason I love comfort food is the fact that some days just call for a simple dish that is drop-dead delicious, one that makes me feel cozy and warms my soul. And there is so much to choose from.
More Choices Are Always More Better
I wanted to expand my comfort food choices (I mean, how many days in a row can one eat fried chicken), so I consulted lots of top ten lists. I noticed one of the rising stars was baked ziti. I’m not surprised. It has so many attributes: it’s a simple preparation that can be ready in less than an hour and a half, it’s a great contribution if you’re invited to a pot luck dinner, and it reheats and freezes well.
A Simple Recipe That Can Be Eaten At Home Or Taken To Town
My recipe is much like a classic lasagna. It contains at least three cheeses (one of them being ricotta cheese), bulk Italian sausage, and a homemade tomato sauce that I like to keep a little chunky. A large jar of marinara sauce can be substituted.
It can be cooked in a fancy oval casserole dish, a simple clear oblong Pyrex dish, or a lasagna pan. If I’m entertaining, I prefer the casserole with the contents almost spilling over the edge, but just for ourselves I use the oblong lasagna pan. It’s easy to cut into servings to serve or to either freeze or reheat later.
1 poundZiti pasta (or comparable tubular pasta)
1 poundItalian sausage or ground pork, bulk
1Onion, large, chopped
4 clovesGarlic diced
2 TablespoonsVarious Italian spices of your choosing
1/2 teaspoonfulRed pepper flakes
32 ouncesEither homemade or bottled marinara sauce
1/2 poundMozarella cheese, grated
1 heaping cupRicotta cheese (preferred) or cottage cheese
1 cupParmesan cheese grated
If you are using homemade sauce, make it up ahead of time.
Chop up the onions and dice the garlic ahead of time.
You can gain some time by having several things going at once:
Start the pasta boiling.
Heat the marinara sauce.
Sauté the onions and add garlic. Transfer to bowl and start browning meat.
Time: 1 Hour 15 minutes
Heat to boil in a large pot with strainer about 2 quarts of water. Add some salt. Add the pasta and cook uncovered until the pasta is al dente.
Drain the pasta using a colander. Add a little EVOO so the pasta doesn’t stick together and set aside.
Start heating up the sauce in a pan. When heated, cover and set aside.
Add the onions and sauté to desired doneness (around 4-5 minutes), add garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the seasonings and red pepper flakes. Cook for a minute or two.
Then add tomato sauce. Stir in well and bring to simmer.
Add about 1 tablespoon of EVOO to the skillet just emptied and return to medium heat. When oil is shimmering, add sausage or ground meat. As it is cooking, break up the meat. Brown to desired doneness. If using ground beef or pork, add salt. Don’t stir often, or it will be difficult for the meat to brown.
Add the spices and stir.
Add the garlic/onion mixture to the meat and stir.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Start layering the ziti bake:
1. Spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a 9X13″ casserole baking dish or lasagna pan. Dot the surface with half the ricotta cheese.
2. Pour over this half of the sauce and stir it well.
3. Add half of the noodles and distribute evenly over the surface.
4. Add the meat/onion/garlic mixture over the tops and distribute evenly.
5. Dot the surface of this with the rest of the ricotta cheese.
6. Add the rest of the pasta and distribute evenly.
7. Then add the rest of the sauce and stir.
Sprinkle the mozzarella and parmesan cheese on top. Bake for about 25 minutes or more. Watch carefully and take out when the top is lightly browned.
Warm Italian bread and a salad is a nice accompaniment. My favorite wine with this is a zinfandel, although there are also Italian wines to choose from. Refrigerate or freeze what you don’t eat, and you’ll find it tastes even better with time.