Thursday, July 14, 2011

Baked Ziti

I must have you know:  my family is huge on pasta.  Maybe you knew that already.  Maybe not.  El Hub and I have always been fans of pasta.  Even to this day, my  mom makes a big ol' pot of spaghetti for my birthday.  Every year.  It's been a tradition for *ahem* 29 years.  I jump at just about every chance to make pasta myself--in fact, sometimes I have to restrain myself in my weekly menus to not serve it all.the.time.  
Let's talk about this ziti.  
One word, said in a cutesy sing-song voice:  ah-may-zing!  La, la, la, la....  

The method for this pasta is not quite authentic, but it works splendidly.  The cream in the cheese sauce is magical and of course, fresh tomato sauce is a sure win.  I used hot Italian sausage which imparts the perfect balance of spice and zing.  Be sure to  be generous with the fresh basil.  My sugar-freak daughter was so proud of herself for "chowing down" on this meal....yet another win.  This recipe makes a ton of pasta, so it is a great choice to serve to company.  Or, enjoy it leftover!  
Baked Ziti
Adapted slightly from Annie's Eats
2 cups cottage cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 lb. ziti or penne pasta
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb. Italian sausage
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
5 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 (28 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves, divided
1 tsp. sugar
Ground black pepper
3/4 tsp. cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream (or whole milk)
1 cup shredded mozzarella
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350° F.  
Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan together in a medium bowl; set aside.  
Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta; cook until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5-7 minutes.  Drain the pasta and leave in colander.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add Italian sausage and cook until nearly browned.  Add in the onion and garlic and continue to cook until the onion is softened and the sausage is completely browned.  Stir in the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.  Off the heat, stir in 1/2 cup basil and the sugar, and season with salt and pepper.  
In a small bowl stir together the cornstarch and heavy cream.  Transfer the mixture to the now-empty stockpot over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, 3-4 minutes (don't boil).  Remove the pot from the heat and add the cottage cheese mixture, 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce and 3/4 cup mozzarella.  Stir to combine.  Add the pasta and toss to coat thoroughly with the sauce.
Transfer the pasta to a large 9×13″ baking dish and spread the remaining tomato sauce evenly over the top.  Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan over the top.  Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the foil from the pan and continue to cook until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer.  Cool for 20 minutes.  Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons basil and serve. 

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