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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Baked Pasta (Ziti Al Forno)

Nothing says celebration to a southern Italian family more than baked pasta, and why not? It can feed a multitude and frees the cook up to enjoy her guests! Every celebration we had growing up: baby christening, first communion, confirmation, showers, holidays...had some kind of baked pasta dish. This recipe is a Neapolitan style baked pasta and is also known as Ziti Alforno or ziti cooked in the oven. My actual family recipe has no actual amounts because there really is no set amount for each ingredient as you just add as much as you like so if you are a sauce family more sauce is added etc....My only real tip for this is to make sure and add enough sauce or else you have a dry casserole.
6 cups cups of Marinara Sauce (make a big pot the day ahead and save half for this recipe)
 8 ounces fresh Mozzarella Basil leaves *Italian housewife trick: Don't wash them off but rub with a dry towel, this keeps them nice and green.
1 pound Pasta: ziti, rigatoni, penne...Something with holes to hold the sauce and whistle a tune!
3/4 cup Grated Cheese: Pecorino OR Parmesan Or a combo of the two
1/2 cup Bread Crumbs: plain
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Equipment: 1 large lasagna or casserole dish. If I am making this for a crowd I buy the big aluminum ones from the dollar store and throw them away when finished.
Set oven to 500.
Boil the pasta until very al dente (slightly undercooked) and drain. Add the sauce to the pasta and stir to coat.
Spread some olive oil onto the bottom of the casserole dish, enough to coat the bottom, and dust with the bread crumbs.
Now place 1/3 of the pasta in and then a 1/3 of the Parmesan, and then 1/3 of mozzarella torn into small chunks, finish off this layer with some basil leaves.
Now repeat the process.
For the third and final layer only add the pasta and cheeses and the finish off with a dusting of bread crumbs and drizzles of olive oil all over.
You only bake this for 10-12 minutes because it is such a high heat. Remove and allow to cool off a bit, atleast 10 minutes before cutting into it.
OR you can cover and place in your fridge for over night and cook just before serving since it is so quick to cook, only 10-12 minutes. But bring back to room temp before baking or else the inside will still be cool.
Buon Appetito!

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