Baked ziti... brings out my inner Carmella. I have an urge to poof up my hair, glue on some fake nails, put on every piece of jewelry I own and yell "Dinna's ready!!".
When I first watched the Sopranos I kept wondering why they were always pulling a baked ziti out of the oven... until my Sopranofile buddies Bennett & Angela bought me the official Sopranos cookbook. Madonna... the mystery of mafia dinners were suddenly unveiled.
Baked ziti is not something I ever came across in my adventures across Italy - but in Jersey I believe this is a staple. It's so easy... and makes the best leftovers on the planet. Not that there is ever much left over. What I particularly like about this dish, is that gluten-free pasta works just as well as "regular"... we have fed hoards of unsuspecting teenagers the gluten-free version of this dish.
Here's how it's done: Boil a large pot of water. While you wait, remove the meat from the casings of a few hot Italian sausages and fry the chunks of meat. Boil rice penne shaped pasta until ALMOST al dente (not as soft as you'd normally serve). Drain and put back in the saucepan. Stir in a jar of healthy tomato sauce and the sausage meat.
Pour half of the pasta mixture into a large glass baking dish. Scoop teaspoonfuls of fresh ricotta cheese and scatter evenly across the dish. Spread the remaining pasta over top and sprinkle with a generous amount of grated mozzarella and parmigiano cheese. Essentially, it's a super easy version of a lasagna. Bake in the oven at 375 for 30 minutes. Remove and let sit for a few minutes. Cut into squares as you would a lasagna. Mamma mia... you gonna be so happy. Buon appetito!