Baked Ziti

We've tried several baked ziti recipes over the years, and we have finally settled on a winner.  In fact, Jim Bob was so eager to test it out that I missed a decent picture for my blog.  Trust me, this recipe is worth the few extra steps.  Some of the recipes we've tried have been dry or bland, but this recipe is the perfect balance of sauce, cheese, and pasta.  I found the recipe on Annie's Eats, but I made a few changes which I've noted below.


Baked Ziti

1 cup sour cream (original recipe called for 16 oz. whole milk or 1% cottage cheese)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 oz. grated Parmesan Cheese (about 1 1/2 cups), divided
Table salt
1 lb. ziti
1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb. ground beef (original recipe called for 20 oz. turkey Italian sausage) 
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
5 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 jar Bertoli tomato basil sauce (original recipe called for 1 (28 oz.) can of tomato sauce and 1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes)
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves, divided
1 tsp. sugar
Ground black pepper
3/4 tsp. cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream
8 oz. mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Whisk sour cream, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan together in a medium bowl; set aside.  Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta; cook until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5-7 minutes.  Drain the pasta and leave in colander.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in skilled over medium heat.  Cook until nearly browned.  Add in the onion and garlic and continue to cook until the onion is softened and the beef is completely browned.  Stir in the tomato sauce and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.  Off the heat, stir in 1/2 cup basil and sugar, and season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl stir together the cornstarch and heavy cream.  Transfer the mixture to the now-empty stockpot over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, 3-4 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and add the sour cream mixture, 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce adn 3/4 cup mozzarella.  Stir to combine.  Add the pasta and toss to coat thoroughly with the sauce.

Transfer the pasta to a 9x13 inch baking dish and spread the remaining tomato sauce evenly over the top.  Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan over the top.  Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil from the pan and continue to bake until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer.  Cool for 20 minutes.  Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons basil and serve.

Source:  Annie's Eats; origninally from Cook's Illustrated, March & April 2009


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