In the tradition of Lasagne of Fiery Doom, Baked Ziti of Pain is a zinger of a baked pasta recipe. Its origin can be traced as far back as 1996 or 1997, around the time that I started living in sublets to stick around Boston for the summers. On my own and in the absence of dorm food, I'd be learning how to cook and, at one time, tried cooking something simple, working in what I had then accumulated in my ability to cook (which wasn't considerable at the time). Through the years, this particular recipe (and sauce, namely) would be worked on more and more as I began making it more and more. You'll notice a distinct similarity between this recipe (again, the sauce, namely) and Lasagne of Fiery Doom for this very reason. I'd recommend taking a look at the lasagne recipe to develop some context. You'll notice that this sauce will have a different texture than that which is used for the lasagne and this dish has appeared at different nodermeets and housewarming events.

Note that this is a vegetarian dish with three maybe four cheeses (mozzarella, monterey jack, parmesan and romano) as well as mushrooms.

what you'll need:

what to do

  1. In a large pot, boil water for the pasta. When it is rapidly boiling, dump in the ziti. Throw a dash of garlic salt in to flavor the pasta and when the water returns to a boil, cover and reduce the heat to low. When done, drain and mix in a tablespoon of butter and 2 teaspoons of parsley. Set aside.
  2. In a sauce pan, measure enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan and saute the minced garlic until fragrant. Throw in the chopped onion and allow to cook until the onions separate and become transparent.
  3. While the onions are cooking along with the garlic, combine stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce in a blender. Blend until smooth.
  4. Add tomato mixture to sauce pan and raise heat to medium.
  5. Since the canned tomatoes have a kind of tinny taste to them that comes from being canned, the spices will need to be added to negate that flavor.
    1. The spicy ingredients (garlic powder, ground black pepper, hot sauce, cayenne pepper, and dried red pepper flakes, onion powder) give the ziti kick. Start by adding a tablespoon of all the dry ingredients (with an extra tablespoon of garlic powder) and a couple splashes of the hotsauce to the pasta sauce.
    2. Now, what we have is a marinara sauce that is pretty spicy. Use a couple teaspoons of each of the sweet ingredients (sugar and basil) to negate this to some extent.
    3. What results from these negations is a sweet and spicy but otherwise plain red sauce. Add enough of the herbs (parsley and oregano) to the mix so that, when stirred, they should be fairly visible. At this point, the sauce should be pretty fragrant.
    4. Go back and forth with the proportions of sweet, spicy, and herby to arrive at a combination that is appealing, adjusting accordingly for levels of spiciness. Typically, spicy > sweet > herby works best.
  6. Add mushrooms. You may notice that the sauce may taste less flavorful after the introduction of the fungus. The reason is these little suckers absorb a good part of the sauce and some of the flavor. If this bothers you, readjust the seasoning in the above step until satisfaction is achieved. Usually this won't matter after the whole mess is baked and the flavors are more or less re-released.
  7. Keep stirring and allow to boil. When it arrives at that point, lower the heat but keep stirring should it bubble some more (otherwise you get a big mess all over the stove). This should remain simmering until the pasta is ready to be drained.
  8. When both the pasta and the sauce are done, preheat oven to 375° and combine the two mixtures in a large pot (like the one the ziti was cooked in). Mix well. If it doesn't look like there is enough sauce, don't worry: the pasta (as well as the mushroom) absorbs a good lot of the sauce, making it seem like there's not enough to go around. Though it appears that a thin layer of red sauce is covering everything, there is, in actuality, plenty. Just be sure to mix the whole thing well.
  9. In a large casserole dish, Pour in a layer of pasta. Then sprinkle a hearty helping of mozzarella and monterey jack cheese over the pasta.
  10. Pour in the rest of the pasta, applying another layer of mozzarella and monterey jack cheese on top of this. Sprinkle parmesan/romano cheese on the very top. You might wind up with more pasta than the dish can hold. Simply fill another small container with ziti and layer it with cheese on top.
  11. Place the ziti into the oven and let bake for 30-45 minutes, allowing the cheese to melt and get golden. Depending on your preference, the pasta can be allowed to bake until almost crisp.
  12. When it is done, sprinkle the remaining mozzarella cheese on top and let sit for 20 minutes. Serve with sourdough or italian bread (for those people who will invariably complain about the spiciness). Makes enough servings to feed that population of the world that would actually admit to owning a new kids on the block CD (like probably 8-10 healthy servings with room for seconds). Enjoy.

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