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March 09, 2011

Baked Ziti Marinara

This time I did not need any inspiration for I set off to cook lasagna. It comes in many sizes in the frozen section and I figured I'll share my variation of this layered baked cheesy-saucy goodness. However, this post is not about lasagna but another italian dish.

As I was scanning through the freezer in the grocery store, I noticed this bright red box screaming Ziti Marinara. Now as I recall marinara is one of the simplest sauces out there. Why would anyone want to buy a frozen version of this pasta dish? I would understand if it was lasagna—after all, lasagna is not the easiest/fastest dish to put together, but baked ziti? Come on!
Marinara—Italian for "of the sea"—is an Italian sauce that is so simple to make. No extra ingredients, no extra effort. After all it was the sauce ship cooks used to make for the sailors when nothing else was available but tomatoes and onions. It is usually spicier then other red sauces because the recipe calls for crushed red pepper, but I omitted it (I did, however add it to my serving) because of my kids—they don't like it too spicy. And this sauce is usually prepared with Italian seasoning, but I only used fresh basil because I really craved pungent basil taste! I caramelized onions with 1 teaspoon of sugar to add a sweet dimension to the sauce. And I deliberately did not add any salt—canned tomatoes have enough of it already. But if you like it salty, like sea water, add a pinch or two.

Here how you do it: fist you make marinara, then you boil ziti, put it all together, add cheese and pop it in the oven for 30 minutes. Done!

Now, step by step.

Baked Ziti Marinara
2 TB spoons olive oil
1 cup diced onions
2-3 garlic gloves, crushed
2 TB spoon tomato paste
1 8 oz can diced tomatoes
1 8 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 TB spoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
1 sprig of fresh basil, just leaves

1 16 oz package uncooked ziti
2 cups shredded white cheese of your choice
(I used 1 cup mozzarella+1 cup white sharp cheddar)
Make sauce:
  1. In a nonstick sauce pan, heat oil and saute onions and garlic for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add sugar and continue simmering for another 5 minutes;
  2. Add vinegar to de-glaze and then add tomato paste. Mix everything well and continue to simmer on the medium heat until all combined, another 5 minutes.
  3. Pour tomatoes and bring to gentle boil over a medium-high heat; add pepper and torn basil leaves. Simmer covered on low heat until pasta is done.
Make pasta:
  1. Cook ziti according to package directions but cut the time 1 minute short;
  2. Drain and pour cold water to stop cooking process.
Assemble the dish:
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F
  2. In a baking pan (lasagna pan—seems like I'm using it for everything else but lasagna!) arrange half of the pasta in a layer, sprinkle 1/3 of the cheese and top with 1/2 of the sauce;
  3. Repeat. Lastly, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top and add some basil chiffonade (that's a fancy word for thinly slicing, I'm just showing off) and cover with foil;
  4. Put it in the oven for 30 minutes, last 10 of which bake with foil removed. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes before serving. E manja!
  1. I agree lasagna would of been a nicer entry for an Italian dish, but baked ziti marinara is so easy to make I just don't get why anyone would buy it frozen…

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