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the easy part

December 07 2010 by Kristin at The Kitchen Sink in Pasta,Recipe » 36 comments

Baked Ziti

Fall went easy on us here in Chicago.  It was long and sun-drenched and fringed in rust-colored leaves.  And, best of all, it faded gently, slowly, nearly imperceptibly—almost as though it were melting away.  So I’m having an easier time coming to terms with winter than I usually do.  Dare I say I’m even liking it a little bit?  December, I must say that this is a first.

Baked ZitiBaked Ziti

It’s just that there’s something wonderful about the flat, hard edge of winter’s sunlight that glints off everything, making it look clean and new.  There’s a magic in the little puffs of air that can suddenly be seen at your mouth, or the tufts of steam rising from street grates or building tops.  There’s the smoke of logs burning in a fireplace, a sign that someone, somewhere, is having a cozy afternoon.  There are the twinkling lights that belong to this portion of the winter—the first part, the holiday part.  There is the chunky sweater, the one that threatens to swallow you whole.  There is the thick scarf, wound tight around the throat.  There was that first dusting of snow—so white, like someone tipped a bag of sugar high above us, letting its glittering contents float down to the ground.

Baked ZitiBaked Ziti

There are the gorgeous new pair of gloves—or, um, there will be once I find a minute to go shopping.  Like I said—winter snuck up on me.

Baked Ziti

And of course, there’s the winter fare.  But, for me, that’s the easy part.  There are the stews and soups and chowders and broths—all manner of things to be slurped up from a hot bowl.  There are the hours-long recipes that yield meat that falls apart, cooking liquids that taste of layer after layer of flavor.  There are warm drinks, in mugs meant to be cupped at your chin.

Baked Ziti

This dish hits all the right winter notes: creamy (check!); comforting (check!); warm (check!); easy and leftover-lending, for those energy zapping portions of winter I know too well (check!).  I plan to trot it out over and over again this winter.

Baked Ziti

I consider it something to look forward to even after winter—inevitably—loses its luster.

Baked Ziti

Baked Ziti

I invented this dish in a pinch—we had friends (hi, Maggie!) coming to town and we decided, at the last minute, to eat in.  Once we tried it (and loved it), I kicked myself for not writing down an approximation of the recipe.  I cobbled a recipe together from memory for my sister (hi, Ali!) when she was in a pinch (friends coming over that very night for dinner) and sent it off over email.  I tried it again for myself this weekend, this time not in a pinch, which gave me plenty of time to appreciate this recipe for what it is—a hybrid of lasagna and baked mac.  With that pedigree, it’s sure to be good, but—even better—this offspring takes the best traits from each of its predecessors (baked mac’s tubular pasta, perfect for its sauce-trapping crevices; lasagna’s lovely marriage of zingy tomato sauce and creamy, rich cheeses).

Yield: 4 to 6 hearty helpings (it’s winter, you know)

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
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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).
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

36 comments so far. »
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  1. Jessica @ How Sweet says on December 07 2010 at 7:55 pm:

    Love that there is fresh mozzarella here!

  2. Jennie @ Oh, Sweet Day! says on December 07 2010 at 8:22 pm:

    Hands down my kind of winter pasta dish!!

  3. Flavia says on December 07 2010 at 8:59 pm:

    Looks delicious, Kristen! Going to have to make this. I love baked pasta dishes and always love to have a new recipe for them.

  4. Heather (Heather's Dish) says on December 07 2010 at 9:25 pm:

    i adore san marzano tomatoes…lucky you for finding some!

  5. Mary says on December 07 2010 at 10:23 pm:

    Looks fantastic! Can you give an approximate weight for the ball of mozzerella?

  6. retro sweets says on December 08 2010 at 1:47 am:

    What a perfect dish and a perfect description of winter. I’ll go get the ingredients! :)

  7. LimeCake says on December 08 2010 at 2:59 am:

    This looks so much better than having to make a bechamel! This seems like the perfect snowy weather dish!

  8. Kristin at The Kitchen Sink says on December 08 2010 at 4:53 am:

    Thanks, everyone!

    Heather: I have to make a special trip to a market for these, but it’s worth it. I always get a strange look when I go to the counter with six large cans of tomatoes …

    Mary: Mine was about 8 ounces. I’ll update the recipe.

  9. Phoo-d says on December 08 2010 at 5:44 am:

    This sounds wonderful and just what I have been craving in the cold weather! I’m going to have to give this a try.

  10. Whitney says on December 08 2010 at 7:22 am:

    The Mascarpone is an interesting addition, and one that I need to try!

  11. heather @ chiknpastry says on December 08 2010 at 7:47 am:

    looks perfect for this week’s weather!

  12. Ali Weber says on December 08 2010 at 11:37 am:

    re: (Hi, Dubs!). This was the perfect meal for a group; best part was that I could make it all ahead of time! Thanks again, it was delicious!

  13. Kendra @ My First Kitchen says on December 08 2010 at 4:17 pm:

    This is possibly my favorite kind of go-to dish. It makes such a difference to use good tomatoes, and I’m so excited to try it with mascarpone! I usually use whatever cheese I have around, but that sounds fabulous. Baked potatoes are in the oven now, but this is a good reminder for what we’re having tomorrow!

  14. Mint says on December 08 2010 at 5:51 pm:

    How about Club Lucky pasta sauce and burrata instead? It’s in the oven right now….SLURP! (I know this isn’t the best use of burrata (injection), but it was in my fridge…)

  15. Rose-Anne says on December 08 2010 at 6:37 pm:

    This dish sounds holy-moly good! I do love a good homespun recipe, too–they are the coziest and most lovable recipes.

  16. Nicole @ the dirty oven says on December 08 2010 at 8:06 pm:

    Looks great. Enjoy the gloves and sweaters! Happy Holidays….your voice is always loved in my home!

  17. Maggie says on December 08 2010 at 8:44 pm:

    Hi! This dish was ridiculously good – so glad to have the recipe now. I still can’t believe you just made this up…thanks again!

  18. laura @ alittlebarefoot says on December 09 2010 at 6:21 pm:

    what a beautiful dish of pasta!

  19. Jen Kotila says on December 10 2010 at 7:10 am:

    Your sister made this for us (the friends she was having over that same night) and it was FANTASTIC! I HAD to have your blog address after this and have been following you since :) Thanks for introducing Ali the joys of cooking! Ha, I don’t think she’s sold yet, but we are working on her.

  20. Barbara says on December 10 2010 at 11:31 am:

    I’m gonna take that casserole and pick off all the crunchy bits on top! That’s my favorite part. Wow. This is a super recipe, Kristin!

  21. Kevin says on December 10 2010 at 5:09 pm:

    Not quite sure why you are being so nice to Winter. I think it sucks. What doesn’t suck is this pasta. I ate it 4 times this week. Thanks!

  22. molly says on December 11 2010 at 8:20 pm:

    I am with you on winter, and all of its food, and I think this in particular looks devastatingly good.

  23. Amanda says on December 13 2010 at 10:57 am:

    This was ridiculously good. If you had a cookbook, I would buy it.

  24. Maria says on December 13 2010 at 1:42 pm:

    I made this dish last night and it was the perfect meal to warm up with over a glass of wine. Delicious and easy!

  25. Sues says on December 13 2010 at 5:02 pm:

    This looks fabulous! And I’m kind of jealous of Chicago’s snow! Seriously though, I can’t even believe winter doesn’t actually start until December 21. It’s going to be a long one!

  26. Jessica says on December 14 2010 at 6:55 pm:

    I’m making this for my mom and my Glee night dinner date! It just went into the oven and I can’t wait to taste it once it’s baked. I live in a small town and it’s hard to find mascarpone so I substituted cream cheese and a bit of sour cream!

  27. Kristin at The Kitchen Sink says on December 16 2010 at 8:24 pm:

    Thanks, guys!

    Jen: Nice to “meet” you! So glad you guys enjoyed this.

    Barbara: Mine too!

    Kevin: I’m coming around to your point of view. xo.

    Mint, Amanda, Maria, Jessica: So glad you guys tried this! Makes me so happy.

  28. Vanessa says on December 17 2010 at 11:41 am:

    I made this the other night and everyone loved it. I have been eating the leftovers for lunch everyday and it never gets old.

  29. Adrianna from A Cozy Kitchen says on December 17 2010 at 7:21 pm:

    Oooo…this is so pretty! I love a good baked ziti. Not fussy. Just pasta, some sauce and lots of cheese. Perfect for a cold night. And I LOVE winter, but I’m not sure if that counts since I live in LA. ;)

  30. emily says on December 17 2010 at 8:17 pm:

    this looks divine! I love baked ziti but I’ve never thought to use mascarpone,,,mm…that must make it so creamy and delicious. thanks for the recipe!

  31. Lara Pabst says on December 19 2010 at 9:44 am:

    I’m making this tonight – looks delicious and Ben is excited! Thanks for the recipe! xoxo

  32. Teresa says on January 03 2011 at 7:08 pm:

    I never leave comments on blogs, but I have to say how much I totally loved this!!! Even though, I am too cheap to buy mascarpone, and I forgot the spinach………….it was awesome. Oh and I threw in some red chilid flakes cause my husband loves heat. Thanks, this has definately become an instantaneous favorite. .

  33. Elizabeth says on January 07 2011 at 10:42 am:

    i made this last night. it was UH MAZE ING!!!! my husband, who doesn’t like onions, spinach or creamy cheeses thought it was delicious. he even took leftovers for lunch today. thank you for getting him to eat spinach! ;)

  34. felizia Medina says on January 19 2011 at 12:46 pm:

    I made this dish Last Saturday! and my family loved it! Thank you so much for putting that recipe on here!!!

    Felizia Medina

  35. Stephanie says on February 26 2011 at 2:07 pm:

    I made this last night at a pot luck and it was a hit! Everybody loved it and asked where the recipe was from. Perfect for a snowy Chicago evening. Thanks!

  36. Mark says on February 28 2011 at 3:54 pm:

    I made this last week, when it was cold and dreary, and letting loose with that winter mixture of snow, sleet, freezing rain, and rain (of course, that’s been the norm in and around Madison this year!)…so I went to my local Italian market, picked up everything I needed; put it together before the significant other got home from work…and voila!…..instant warmth in front of the fire.

    Definitely, a part of our pasta rotation now! Thanks.

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