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Baked Ziti

A Bountiful Kitchen, adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Ingredients

  • 1 pound Ziti or other short tubular pasta (it is usually easier for me to find Rigatoni)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium garlic cloves minced
  • 2-15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1-8 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 (14.5-ounccan diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • salt and pepper about 1 teaspoon each
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves divided
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound whole milk cottage cheese or low fat cottage cheese
  • 2 large eggs lightly beaten
  • 3 ounces grated Parmesan cheese about 1 1/2 cups
  • 8 ounces low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella cheese cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)

Instructions

  1. Cook pasta for about 9 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Place oil and garlic in large pan and sauté over medium heat just until fragrant. Add all of the tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, sugar, oregano, salt and pepper and cook for about 10 minutes until thickened a bit. Turn off heat and add 1/2 cup of chopped basil.
  3. Pour heavy cream into a second large saucepan. While cream is cold, whisk in 1 teaspoon of cornstarch. Simmer over medium heat for about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat and add 1lb of cottage cheese, 2 beaten eggs, 1 cup of the tomato sauce mixture, and half of the Parmesan and cubed mozzarella (reserving the remaining Parmesan and mozzarella for top of dish). Stir until combined (this mixture will now be a light red/pinkish color).
  4. Add the cooked pasta to the cream mixture. Stir until all of the pasta is coated.
  5. Pour into a greased 9x13 pan. Pour remaining tomato mixture over the top and sprinkle the remaining cubed mozzarella and Parmesan cheese on top of the pasta in dish. Top dish with remaining chopped fresh basil ( I like to save a few leaves for after baking as well for color).
  6. Cover dish tightly with foil. Bake at 350 degrees on middle rack of oven for 30 minutes with foil, then remove foil for last 30 minutes. Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe Notes

Tips (longer than the recipe):
-We made 17x this recipe for the girls and divided it into 8 large (20 3/4 x 12 3/4x 3 inches deep-disposable foil steam table pans) The pans served about 35-40 each.
-We prepared the Ziti and covered each pan with foil until baking. The dish was prepared Saturday morning, and was baked Monday late afternoon. It was as good as if it were prepared on the same day.
-This dish may also be frozen after ingredients are poured into the pan. About two hours before baking, remove from freezer and set on counter. When ready to bake, place in oven at 325 for 1 1/2 hours on middle rack. After 1 1/2 hours, turn oven to 375, remove foil, and bake an additional 15 minutes. Allow more time if multiple pans are being baked in the same oven (about 15 minutes per pan, while covered).
-If you don't have a basil plant, or enough basil to make this dish, I suggest a trip to Trader Joes, where you can buy (the biggest basil plant you have ever seen in your life) for $2.99 . That's right $2.99. We used three trees plants to make 17 times this recipe, it was more than enough fresh basil for our Ziti-a-thon.
-When I first started making this dish as a child (jk) , I thought fresh mozzarella was always the best choice when following a recipe that called for mozzarella. Not so. It has way too much moisture for this dish. A firm mozzarella, that can easily be cut into cubes works best. It melts into the pasta dish without leaving water in the bottom of the dish.
-If you are making this recipe in large quantity, I found that the #10 cans found at Costco and other restaurant suppliers will cover 3x this recipe for the tomato sauce. So instead of: 2-15 oz cans and 1-8 oz can of tomato sauce for every three times this recipe, I used 1 #10 can of tomato sauce (approx 96 oz), and one additional 15 oz can of tomato sauce. If you 6x the recipe, use 2 #10 cans of tomato sauce and one #10 can of diced tomatoes.