Monday, November 7, 2011

Baked Ziti

This dish was invented in a pinch. Once we tried it (and loved it), I kicked myself for not writing down an approximation of the recipe. I finally cobbled a recipe from memory.

This is basically a hybrid of lasagna and baked mac. This recipe takes the best traits from its predecessors (baked mac’s tubular pasta, perfect for its sauce-trapping crevices and lasagna’s lovely marriage of zingy tomato sauce and creamy, rich cheeses). Yeah, I know... You’re welcome.

Baked Ziti
Serves 4 to 6 hearty helpings

1 pound of ziti, rigatoni or other tubular pasta
1 thick-cut slice of pancetta, diced
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
1 8-ounce container of mascarpone
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 box/bag of fresh baby spinach
1 ball of fresh mozzarella (approximately 8 to 10 ounces), thinly sliced or torn into shredded-like pieces

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Grease a baking dish (a 9 x 13-inch pan, 2 quart baking dish or similarly-sized dish will work).
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a couple big pinches of salt to the water, add the ziti and boil until the pasta is still shy of al dente. Drain the pasta, return it to the pot and set aside.
Meanwhile, heat a large, deep skillet (or sauce pan) over medium heat. Add the diced pancetta and cook until the pancetta is browned and has let off some grease, about five minutes. If the pancetta sticks to the pan, add a little olive oil. Add the diced onions and minced garlic; cook for a few minutes, stirring. Add the tomatoes to the onion/pancetta mixture and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes. Add the mascarpone and vinegar to the tomato sauce, stirring until the cheese has completely melted. Add the spinach to the pan (you may need to do this a little at a time, depending on the size of your skillet), stirring until the spinach has wilted. Salt the sauce to taste, if necessary.
Pour the tomato-spinach sauce over the reserved/cooked pasta. Stir to coat all the pasta with tomato sauce. Transfer the pasta to the prepared lasagna pan, spreading the pasta evenly in the pan. Top with the mozzarella, scattering the mozzarella evenly over the pasta.
Bake the pasta, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbling a bit at the edges and the cheese is golden brown. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes or so before serving.

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