Well. Summer was here then it went away then it was hot again then rainy then sunny then super stormy then summery… and now it’s un-summer again. So, I took the opportunity to turn on the oven and make a hearty, warming, carb and cheese filled fall meal. Baked Ziti!
Evan and I have been on a major Sopranos kick. I had never watched it, and now we’re hardcore bingeing. We just made it through season 3, and I’m obsessed. I love it so much. I can’t even pick a favorite character, because obviously Tony is Tony, but then Paulie and Silvio are hilarious, and of course there’s Carm. Edie Falco is so amazing as Carmella Soprano, I can’t stand it.
And...the food! I’m basically starving every time we watch it. Food is such a big part of the show. They’re always eating or talking about food or cooking food. The Sopranos eat manicotti on Thanksgiving and Lasagna for Christmas. They always have cured Italian meats in the fridge and go to Artie’s restaurant for important lunches and business meetings. There’s the Sunday “gravy,” the “macaroni,” and of course, there’s Carm’s baked ziti.
I had maybe never had baked ziti before, but The Sopranos inspired me! It's basically a jumbled up lasagna, with ziti instead of flat lasagna noodles, and with everything all mixed up together. Carm makes ziti all the time in the show, so I decided to give it a go. I used sweet Italian sausage, since in a recent episode, she brings a big container of baked ziti up to Columbia, with the sweet Italian sausage that Meadow likes. I also threw in some roasted cherry tomatoes, because I love them. This recipe isn’t super quick, is probably not totally authentic, dirties a bunch of dishes, and definitely isn’t healthy, but it’s the perfect thing to welcome fall.
Baked Ziti with Sweet Italian Sausage and Roasted Tomatoes
Adapted from this recipe
1.5-2 cups cherry tomatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Flaked sea salt
1 lb bulk sweet Italian sausage
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz can saucy crushed tomatoes (I use San Marzano)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper
16 oz dried Ziti (or other similar shaped pasta, like penne)
1.5 cups ricotta
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
First, get the tomatoes in the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss tomatoes in olive oil on a baking sheet, and sprinkle liberally with salt. Roast for 30-40 minutes, until tomatoes and wrinkly and starting to caramelize. Keep the oven on for the baked ziti.
While the tomatoes are roasting, make the sauce. Heat a large, tall-sided skillet over medium heat, and add a drizzle of olive oil and sausage. Break up pieces, and cook until cooked through. Add onion, and cook until onion is browned, and sausage has a good caramelization on the edges. Add garlic, cook another minute or so. Add canned tomatoes, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Turn to a simmer. When Tomatoes in oven are done, toss those and the oil and juices from the pan with the rest of the sauce. Salt and pepper to taste. Continue to simmer while you boil the pasta.
Bring 2 quarts of water to boil, with a bit of salt. Add pasta, and cook about 8 to 9 minutes, so it’s cooked through but al dente with a bit of a firm bite. Before draining, add 1.5 cups of pasta water to the tomato sauce. Drain the pasta, then toss it (in the pot) with a drizzle of olive oil. Add all but about 1.5 cups of the sauce to the pasta, and toss.
In a deep-sided 7x11 baking dish (or a regular 9x13), add 1/2 cup of the sauce, spread out. Add about 1/2 cup of the ricotta, in dollops, plus a sprinkle of the mozzarella and parmesan. Pour in pasta and top with remaining cup of sauce, remaining ricotta in dollops, and the rest of the mozzarella and parm. Add a sprinkle of dried basil on top. Bake in the already preheated 350 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until cheese is melty and starting to turn golden.