By Matthew Yglesias
Baked ziti was my favorite school lunch from elementary school, so it holds a special place in my heart. And I’ve cooked it twice recently, once for Sara and her parents and once for some of my fellow IFAers. Here’s the deal. You need:
1 pound of Italian sausage
0.25 points of bacon, diced
1 28-ounce can of diced tomatoes with liquid
1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, torn into tiny bits
1 pound of ziti
1 large onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Some Parmagiano Reggiano
1 cup Red Wine
Salt n’ pepa
I prefer to cut the sausage into smallish slices (sort of like what might top a pizza) rather than remove it from the casing like it’s ground meat, though tastes may differ on this point. Set a pot of water to boil. Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Start out by putting the bacon in a large (there’s a lot of food here) saute pan over medium-high heat. When enough fat is rendered, toss in the onion, carrot, and garlic with some salt and cook for a few minutes until they’re softening and everything’s getting aromatic. Then put in the sausage and brown it quickly. Now add some herbs (I think I used an herbes de provence mixture) and fresh ground pepper and add the wine. When it starts to boil, turn the heat down a bit and let it cook down to very little, deliciously fusing all your flavors together.
Now add the tomatoes and their juices, and leave the saute pan simmering. Put your ziti in the water. You’re going to want to undercook this ziti since it’ll cook more during the baking process. Do it so that it’s tender enough to cross some kind of literal edibility threshold, but not something you’d actually want to serve. Now put the sauce and the ziti in a baking dish. Throw in the mozzarella bits, and stir the whole thing a lot to mix everything up. Grate some parmesan on the top. But the baking dish in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Then pull it out and serve once the cheese has stopped bubbling in an alarming manner.
I made this with some bacon I bought at a farmer’s market that was the saltiest thing I’ve tasted since an 18th century sea voyage. Absent that, putting more salt in at some point in the process might be desirable. Obviously, a lot of modifying is possible here. I was initially looking to make something that would be both delicious and appealing to unadventurous diners so I made sure to get good sausage and good bacon from the farmer’s marker, and real fresh mozzarella and real parmagiano reggiano cheese. It makes a difference, but the recipe can be executed with more pedestrian products and still be good on the theory that cheese + pork = delicious.