Monday, April 16, 2012

Baked Ziti

You know those people who you can go on a road trip with and sit in silence for 45 minutes but it isn't awkward since you are so comfortable with one another that you barely even notice?  Or the friends you have known so long that it doesn't matter if you laugh so hard you snort, because when you are together that actually happens more often than you care to admit?  Or that amazing soul that knows you so well that they love you regardless, without judgement and for the rest of your life?  These are the people that fall under the category of "A good friend will help you move, a true friend will help you move the bodies".  

Well one of those special people in my life is my dear Cathy (aka "Cathy Sue Cleavage", another nickname coined by our friends aunt).  We have been dear friends since freshman year in high school and even though she lives in Virginia I can not see a future of mine without her in it!  She is a special person who I am grateful to know and blessed to call one of my very best friends.
Cathy and me!
 Cathy and her sweet husband, Shep, tearing it up on the dance floor at a friends wedding!
I am so blessed with such wonderful friends who have remained close since high school! 
 Here is Cathy's beautiful daughter, Stuart, meeting Emory for the first time!

Cathy was recently in town for a few days and we decided we would grab dinner.  Since I love the comfort and ease of being able to eat at someone's house I thought I would cook something that could be done in advance so all our time together could be strictly visiting, not me in the kitchen!  I went in search of something I thought would be delicious and easy.  Well I found it!  Of course, as I am sure you can imagine, pasta was involved!  This recipe is quite similar to my dear friend, Jennifer's Baked Rigatoni, with just a few changes.  

Baked Ziti
Serves 6 to 8
As adapted from

12 ounces rigatoni pasta
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 spicy Italian sausages, casings removed
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 cups homemade or store bought marinara
1 cup part-skim mozzarella cheese
8 oz. diced pancetta
1/2 parmesan, grated
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. 

Add a small handful of salt and pasta to water and stir. Boil pasta for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until pasta is al dente. Remove pasta with a slotted spoon, toss with a teaspoon of oil, pour into a large mixing bowl

Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into a large sauté pan and place over medium- high heat. Add sausage and break apart with a wooden spoon. Cook sausage for about 5 minutes or until evenly browned. Drain and add to pasta.
Discard grease and add remaining oil to pan. 

Add onion, bell peppers and garlic to pan and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes. 
Season with salt and pepper. Pour onion mixture over sausage and pasta mixture and toss together.
Add marinara, 1/2 cup mozzarella, pancetta and 1/4 cup parmesan and gently fold together until fully incorporated. Adjust seasonings.
Pour mixture into a lightly greased 8”x 8” baking dish and top with remaining mozzarella and parmesan.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the cheese bubbles and browns.
Allow ziti to cool for 5 to 7 minutes before serving.
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