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Jan 29, 2009 11:53 AM

Baked Ziti recipe anyone?

I am intrigued by the nearly continuous references to Baked Ziti on the Sopranos. Never had nor made it and, of course, I'd like an authentic recipe -- as close as possible to what mama would make back home. Thanks.

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  1. I'm pretty sure that baked ziti is one of those Italian-American dishes that isn't really represented "back home." You know the whole red sauce, spaghetti and meatballs kind of thing.

    Baked ziti is basically lasagna that is all mixed up with little pasta instead of put in a dish with layers of pasta sheets. I'd say this recipe is perfectly acceptable. You could maybe add some sausage to it if you want.

    7 Replies
    1. re: HaagenDazs

      There are various versions, usually some combination of ziti, tomato sauce, ricotta, mozzarella, grated cheese, possible sausage.

      1. re: HaagenDazs

        I agree with HD, but here is the recipe from the Sopranos cookbook.

        1. re: HaagenDazs

          Pasta al forno is well represented, especially in Southern Italy, where it's usually lighter and less monumental than the American version--typically, a short pasta like ziti, mixed with a plain sauce, grated cheese, maybe small meatballs, grated pecorino, mozzarella (often), maybe eggplant slices or cubes, and not always much ricotta. In Sicily, this category of pasta 'ncasciata has many more luscious variations, including anelli al forno, made with small pasta that resembles the rings after which it's named. Viana La Piace's La Bella Cucina has some nice recipes from Puglia.

          1. re: bob96

            I have no idea how I missed this response the first time around, but: yeah, what he said. Not much need for my post below (although Bob here did forget potatoes).

          2. re: HaagenDazs

            << I'm pretty sure that baked ziti is one of those Italian-American dishes that isn't really represented "back home." >>

            Sorry to disappoint you, but it most certainly does come from the peninsula. In addition to the versions from my family that I posted below, there are certainly plenty of variations of ragù, besciamella, cheese, sausage, potatoes, meatballs, and/or eggplant tossed with pasta and baked in endless variations all around the southern half of the country.

            1. re: tmso

              Hey folks, everything is based on something.

              I'm not saying that baked ziti or spaghetti & meatballs didn't arise out of real Italian cookery, I'm just saying that many, if not most of the recipes that someone will find online or here does not consist of anything that you would find in a small Italian village. My claim is further strengthened by the fact that the Cooks Illustrated recipe describes it as an Italian-American favorite. I'm not saying it's good or bad, I'm only saying that the version most people are used to is undoubtedly Americanized.

              1. re: HaagenDazs

                I'm sure it's americanized, but I think you're wrong about what that means. There are some innovations in italoamerican cuisine, but most of its americanità is in a mixing of pan-peninsular influences and its being drawn from a reduced selection of dishes, leaning in the direction of comfort food. There seems to be a meme among a lot of americans who have learned some about mid- and north-peninsular food that Italian-American favorites are their own thing, and aren't representative of dishes from the peninsula. The cuisine as a whole is somewhat deformed ... but certainly recognizable to someone from Campania.

                I'll try to dig up an example of ziti (or similar) al forno in Italian for comparison, and you can draw your own conclusions :-)

          3. There is a Greek dish called pastitsio that is really good. Uses a ziti like pasta and ground lamb with a bechamel sauce. I know, it isn't Italian, but I like it.

            2 Replies
              1. re: jaykayen

                Pastitsio, the Greek dish, takes its name from Italian pasticcio, but they aren't quite the same dish. Pastitsio is generally made with more distinct layers, with the meat sauce (often with eggplant as well) on the bottom and noodles and bechamel relegated to the top. Pasticcio is more like a lasagna al forno, with the meat and other ingredients in varying layers throughout. Pastitsio will look distinctly different when cut in portions. Pasticcio has much more variation in how it's prepared from region to region or even sometimes household to household, from what I understand.

            1. As promised yaddayadda, I'll give you my version.

              I start by making a meat sauce: using olive oil, I sweat some onion and garlic, then I add a mixture of ground pork, veal and beef, and brown that. Once it is browned, I add some red wine and reduce, then I add the crushed tomatoes and let simmer for a few hours.

              I like to add bechamel because I feel it adds a nice comforting touch. (Please let me know if you need a recipe for bechamel)

              Then I par cook the pasta...I'll cook Tortiglioni or Rigatoni for about 5 -6 minutes. In the meantime, I mix together the meat sauce and the bechamel, and will toss the drained pasta in it. Pour the mixture into a cassarole dish and top with grated mozzarella and parmigiano. Then I bake until its bubbling and slightly browned.


              8 Replies
              1. re: icey

                "I'll cook Tortiglioni or Rigatoni"

                Umm... why not ziti? No big deal, I'm teasing here, but it is called baked ziti for a reason.

                1. re: HaagenDazs

                  haha....actually, HaagenDazs, I thought about that after I posted! I use Barilla, and I don't ever remember seeing Ziti...maybe because I just keep buying my favourites all the time!

                  1. re: icey

                    Does Penne Lisce = Ziti? Or does ziti not have the angled cut?

                    That might explain why you don't see it where you are. Up here in Canada it is VERY rare that I see any pasta marked as ziti (although I thought I saw some double labeled as both penne and ziti the other day and, hence, my question).

                    1. re: Atahualpa

                      Penne lisce is smooth penne, with the angled cut. Ziti is also called mostaccioli, at least in Chicago, and, in years past, as mezzani or mezza ziti.
                      There's also a long ziti tube, the length of spaghetti, used in Naples and the south, usually broken in half.

                      1. re: bob96

                        "There's also a long ziti tube, the length of spaghetti, used in Naples and the south, usually broken in half."

                        Is that the same as bucatinni? or is the long ziti thicker?

                        1. re: Atahualpa

                          Actually, ziti in Naples and south normally refers to the uncut shape, and much thicker than bucatini-- it's mezza ziti for the cut we see here, usually 2 inches long. Southern cooks will often hand break the long pasta for bean soups and sauces or with broccoli. Mezzani are short and a bit smaller. The Naples-area pasta maker Di Martino has a gallery at Greeks use the long form to lay in the baked pastistio.

                2. re: icey

                  I'll be trying this, too. Thanks icey. The only thing preventing me thus far is the "simmer for a few hours" part. I haven't had the time... yet.

                  1. re: icey

                    Yes--bechamel makes all the difference in baked ziti.
                    Make sure whatever recipe you use includes it.

                  2. Yeah I love the one episode of the Sopranos where AJ, when hearing that Grandma's not coming to a family party says, "what, no f**kin' Ziti now!!?" Here's a a recipe from Cooks Illustrated that was really good.

                    1 pound whole milk cottage cheese or 1 percent cottage cheese
                    2 large eggs , lightly beaten
                    3 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
                    Table salt
                    1 pound ziti or other short, tubular pasta
                    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
                    5 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 5 teaspoons)
                    1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
                    1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
                    1 teaspoon dried oregano
                    1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
                    1 teaspoon sugar
                    Ground black pepper
                    3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
                    1 cup heavy cream
                    8 ounces low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella cheese , cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)


                    1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan together in medium bowl; set aside. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain pasta and leave in colander (do not wash Dutch oven).

                    2. Meanwhile, heat oil and garlic in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until garlic is fragrant but not brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in ½ cup basil and sugar, then season with salt and pepper.

                    3. Stir cornstarch into heavy cream in small bowl; transfer mixture to now-empty Dutch oven set over medium heat. Bring to simmer and cook until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove pot from heat and add cottage cheese mixture, 1 cup tomato sauce, and ¾ cup mozzarella, then stir to combine. Add pasta and stir to coat thoroughly with sauce.

                    4. Transfer pasta mixture to 13- by 9-inch baking dish and spread remaining tomato sauce evenly over pasta. Sprinkle remaining ¾ cup mozzarella and remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan over top. Cover baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

                    5. Remove foil and continue to cook until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer. Cool for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons basil and serve.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: Tracenator

                      LOL..."f'ing ziti"....ya gotta love the Sopranos! Every now and then, I do crave pasta...potatoes I crave most often, then pasta, and rarely ever rice...but now I'm really jonesing for pasta!

                      1. re: Val

                        hahaha. I, too, started to search for a baked ziti recipe after I started watching the sopranos. I've been making the one on all recipes, but I have not tried the cooks illustrated one yet; will have to soon.


                        One note: was it me or does anyone else feel like the show's ending kind of sucked? Sorry i digress.

                      2. re: Tracenator

                        Cottage cheese??!??!?
                        (I'm not as shocked as my punctuation implies, just....... I don't like that junk in my baked zeed.....)
                        Ok, ok- and any meat you may or may not wanna include goes ON THE SIDE. That's all I'm gonna say. Unless you're cooking for a bunch of Gavones, then mix it all in.

                        1. re: Boccone Dolce

                          I tried the CI recipe last night with the cottage cheese. CI's rational for it is ricotta can be and gritty while the cottage cheese is moister. Also cubes of mozz instead of shredded so you get pockets of cheese.

                          It wasn't bad, but I missed the flavor of the ricotta.

                          1. re: viperlush

                            Only inferior ricotta is gritty. Seek out fresh ricotta (you won't find it in supermarkets.) It lasts less than a week.

                            1. re: jaykayen

                              Right ON!! Never buy Trader Joe's ricotta. I only buy it in Italian stores or places like Whole Foods. The other stuff is not worth buying.

                            2. re: viperlush

                              Cottage Cheese in Baked Ziti? Mama Mia! Quelle horreur!

                              Cottage Cheese is very salty, with a very high sodium content. It is also gritty., and totally un-Italian or Italian American.

                              Ricotta Cheese is smooth and luscious. I use the Polly-O Part Skim. According to Marcella Hazan, my former cooking teacher, that is the closest to the Italian.. When I use it to make Cannoli or Bakes Ziti, I usually push it through a sieve.

                              I make Baked Ziti all the time, in a variety of ways. Whatever is available. Meat Sauce, Sausages, plain Marinara Sauce froma jar (24 oz) I use Fairway or Ceriello brand. I also use Penne Rigate, the kind with the ridges. It seems to hold up better.

                              One box Penne Rigate... I use de Cecco imported... there is a difference.
                              24 oz jar of Sauce, or three cups home made.
                              One cup Ricotta
                              One egg, beaten
                              half cup Mozarella, shredded on coarse grater
                              1/2 cup grated pecorino or Parmigiano Reggiano if you are feeling rich
                              Mix in 1/4 cuo, reserve 1/4 cuo for topping.

                              I mix the Cheese Mixture ( Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Pecorino) into the sauced Pasta.

                              Pour into buttered Baking Dish. Bake at 359 covered fo 30 min. Uncover, sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake until brown and bubbly.

                              Allow to rest for 15 minutes before serving.

                              Better the next day!

                            3. re: Boccone Dolce

                              Ya, cottage cheese??? With all due respect, I friggin hate when people use cottage cheese to replace beloved ricotta.


                            4. re: Tracenator

                              Cottage cheese?! My family would faint!

                              But it's good to see they use eggs in the recipe and at least some sort of creamy cheese. IMO, baked ziti w/o ricotta is dry.

                            5. Ho! Good response -- appreciated.
                              'Scuse me -- I'll make like Carmella and hit the kitchen now.