I have only recently discovered the joys of baked ziti. I think I actually first became aware of the dish when watching the Sopranos. I made my first one based on this recipe by Mario Batali with a balsamella sauce: Baked Ziti al Telefono. The name refers to the cheese being nice and stringy and apparently reminding some Italian folks of telephone wires. With this nice little allusion, combined with a passing resemblance to some sort of fancy macaroni and cheese, lots of kids will enjoy this one too.
The balsamella sauce itself isn't included in the recipe above. I'm not sure why. Luckily it is pretty straight forward and happens to be posted here. This version of baked ziti is delicious, but very rich. I cut down on some of the mozerella and substituted some meatballs that I cut up into smaller bite sized bits. Lots of Italian dishes I don't mind eating for a few nights in a row, but this one, due to the richness is a once in a while kind of thing. Luckily Ziti freezes very well. A half batch of this one might be a nice size to start with. Perfect for those smaller square casserole pans.
Tomorrow I am putting one together that is simplier and a few notches less rich. I'm just using a meat sauce I made today and am combining it with some chopped, grilled chicken that I have left over from the quesadillas we're having tonight, and some cubed mozerella, all topped off with some bread crumbs and a bit of romano cheese. The grilled chicken and the ground beef (in my sauce) combo might not work for purists, but with gas prices as they are and the way they in turn are pushing up the cost of everything, food included, I'm enjoying getting creative with ways to make sure no good food gets wasted. And ziti saves the day in this department, being endlessly alterable and able accommodate a wide range of leftover ingredients that might otherwise get tossed. Also the combo of beef and chicken could be a nice excuse to have a glass of red wine and a glass of white as well.
Soon I'll post a recent iteration of my meat sauce. It has been fun improvising with them. By the way, the book that got me started with Italian sauces back when Erin was pregnant with Hannah (going on 9 years ago now) is appropriately enough Pasta Sauces by Charles Bellissino. I got a lot of the ideas for variations on sauces from him.
If you enjoyed this article please vote for it on Digg, above, or Netscape or one of the other options below. You also bookmark the site to the right. I appreciate your support.