Baked Ziti is a grand departure from the pasta meals of my childhood. I recall a few different pasta dishes: Lasagna (good and basic, but no real spice), Spaghetti with a meat sauce (spices from a store bought mix), Mac and Cheese (of course) and my personal favorite "Spiddle Diddles." One of my older brothers claims that this last dish was invented when my mother was on food stamps. I haven't verified this claim, but it does kind of make sense. Spiddle Diddles has three ingredients: Tomato juice, cooked elbow macaroni and a little pepper. D refuses to eat it. I craved it during at least one of my pregnancies and required it almost every day. It's a little weird, I guess, but what's wrong with a little simplicity?
Anyway, Baked Ziti is fairly simple, uses good straightforward ingredients and still manages to be leaps and bounds above my childhood fare.
Skillet Baked Ziti
From America's Test Kitchen
1 T olive oil
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 ts. red pepper flakes
table salt and ground black pepper
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
3 cups water
12 oz. Ziti (3 3/4 cups, I prefer ziti rigate)
1/2 C heavy cream
1/2 C grated parmesan cheese
1/4 C minced fresh basil leaves
1 C shredded mozzarella cheese
Pre-heat oven to 475 degrees.
*Measure water & pasta before you begin cooking. Prep Parmesan & basil while pasta cooks.
1. Simmering the Ziti: Combine oil, garlic, pepper flakes & 1/2 ts. salt in a 12-inch, oven safe skillet. Saute over medium-high heat until fragrant (about 1 minute). Add crushed tomatoes, water, Ziti & 1/2 ts. salt. Cover and cook, stirring often & adjusting heat as needed to maintain vigorous simmer, until Ziti is almost tender (15 to 18 minutes or to package directions).
2. At this point, transfer pasta to an oven safe casserole dish if you didn't have an oven safe skillet. Stir in cream, Parmesan & Basil. Season w/salt & pepper to taste. Sprinkle mozzarella evenly. Transfer skillet (or casserole dish) to oven. Bake until cheese has melted & browned (about 10 minutes).
On a side note: while I was cooking my Ziti this last week, I started to smell something burning. I couldn't figure it out until I went to put the pasta in the oven. This is what I discovered:
My husband had left one slice of left over pizza in the oven the day before. I guess it was keeping warm in there and when he turned off the oven, he promptly forgot it was there. I managed to turn it to charcoal in my 475 degree oven. I was NOT happy when I discovered this. Yuck.
Have a Happy Day!