Yesterday someone very special flew out of Portland and left me feeling more than a little bit empty. After puttering around the kitchen for a few hours feeling sorry for myself, I pulled myself together and whipped up my famous baked ziti, which has thrilled friends, family and countless touring musicians for years. My baked ziti has no meat, is full of vegetables, is very cheap to make, and happens to taste just like pizza. (It’s definitely similar to this baked ziti at Ezra Pound Cake).
Build a simple sauce in a stove pan: the base is olive oil, carrots, red onion, celery, garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes that sizzle softly for 7-8 minutes. (Meanwhile: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and liberally butter a baking dish.) At this point, it’s wonderful to add any number of vegetables to the dish. Hunks of zucchini, squash, mushrooms, red bell peppers, broccoli and eggplant work great — the idea is tons of gently cooked vegetables with a bit of bite.
Add a can of San Marzano tomatoes and stir to combine (although fresh garden tomatoes, peeled and quartered, would clearly be superior). While that simmers and reduces into a velvety mash, cook a pound of pasta (I used penne rigate here, but ziti obviously rules too) until extremely al dente and then toss it into the sauce, along with tiny cubes of fresh mozzarella. Dump the sauced pasta into the baking dish and gently layer a lacy web of thickly sliced discs of mozzarella over the pasta, and into the oven it goes for 45 minutes.
I hadn’t made baked ziti in over a year, and it went a little too long in the oven, but that can be a good thing. Once I made baked ziti in Ithaca for a touring guitarist and some friends and ran out while it was in the oven to buy more wine at the corner store. Naturally, I forgot my keys and my cell phone and was locked out of my apartment until a neighbor leaving 30 minutes later let me inside. I dashed upstairs, everyone thought I was gone a normal amount of time, I was super frazzled, and the baked ziti was way overcooked but magically the fresh mozzarella crust turned out extra chewy and crispy. Only happy endings with this dish.