Baked Italian – Style Ziti, by Beverly Hicks Burch

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Back in the 1980s I lived for almost a year in Westchester County, NY just north of New York City. Then, in 1986 and again in 1990 I sojourned for several months, respectively in the great state of Maine. That meant lovely trips down into Boston.

So, what does that have to do with today’s recipe and cooking? Quite a lot actually. You see, both cities have large Italian communities with restaurants serving authentic Italian food. Believe me, there is nothing like it. Freshly made pasta – not boxed pasta, creamy cheese, spices – and oh, my, oh my – the aromas! Fragrant heaven to every olfactory sensory in your body!

It was in these places I learned to appreciate cannoli, manicotti, calzones, fresh mozzarella and the wonders of ricotta cheese.

I had made lasagna plenty of times, but used cottage cheese instead of ricotta, I had no idea what it was. Well, no more!

And, then, there was baked ziti… Think of baked ziti as Italian mac n’ cheese or an easy version of lasagna.

Once I came home, I started making my own baked ziti – and, I’ve never looked back – other than to lighten up the recipe and make it a little healthier.

This year for Christmas we were all the “walking wounded”. Tall & Handsome was still in recovery mode from his bypass, my autoimmune disorders were flaring and the rest of the family was dealing with their own issues of time and being under the weather. We gathered this year for Christmas Eve and made one of the best and most enjoyable decisions we’ve made in a while – we had our dinner catered – and, made homemade desserts. Bellissimo!

Tall & Handsome and I spent Christmas Day at home, and to continue down the road of new traditions, I made a pan of my Baked Italian – Style Ziti for Christmas Day.

Home run #2 for the holidays!

My recipe is one I’ve been making for years – ever since my experiences in the northeast. It is my tip of the hat to great Italian food from great Italian cooks.

 Baked Ziti D

Baked Italian – Style Ziti

1 16 oz. box ziti

16 – 24 oz. traditional marinara sauce (I use Prego Traditional) *how much you use is personal preference, but don’t make it too soupy or saucy, it will overwhelm the dish.

1 15 – 16 oz. container of part-skim ricotta cheese

1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, plus extra for the top

1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus extra for the top

2 eggs, beaten

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried parsley

1/2 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

fresh ground pepper

cooking spray

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. In salted boiling water cook the ziti until al dente – do not overcook!

3. Mix cheese mixture by combining: ricotta cheese, 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, 2 beaten eggs, 2 teaspoons of minced garlic, 1 teaspoon dried basil, 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley, 1/2 teaspoon onion powder, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and freshly ground black pepper. Set cheese mixture aside.

4. Drain pasta and rinse slightly with cool water. Drain well again.

5. Spray a 13 x 9 inch oven proof pan with cooking spray. Then, pour a small amount of marinara into the bottom of the pan and spread around the bottom of the pan. This prevents sticking.

6. Add half the cooked and drained pasta to the bottom of the prepared pan.

7. Next, add the cheese mixture and cover the pasta with the cheese mixture. Spoon a small amount of marinara sauce over the cheese.

8. Add the remaining pasta as the next layer on top of the cheese layer. Pour remaining marinara sauce over the pasta, then sprinkle desired amount of shredded Parmesan cheese and shredded mozzarella cheese over the top.

9. Place the pan on a baking sheet in case of overflows. Bake in the oven at 350° for about 30 – 45 minutes or until ziti is hot and bubbly. Baked Ziti B

© 2015 Beverly Hicks Burch All Rights Reserved.

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