Baked Ziti

MAKES: 6 servings

TIME: About 1 hour

Old-school baked ziti with red sauce is basically a shortcut for lasagne, with fewer ingredients and none of the layering hassle. A staple of potluck dinners, it serves at least six people with only a pound of pasta. Whatever you do, don’t overcook the pasta! It should be too tough to actually eat when you mix it with the sauce, which will make it perfect after baking.

Salt

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or butter, plus more as needed

1 pound any mushrooms, preferably mixed with some reconstituted dried porcini

1 large onion, diced

1 tablespoon minced garlic (optional)

Freshly ground black pepper

One 28-ounce can tomatoes, with their liquid, chopped

1 pound ziti or other large cut pasta

1 pound mozzarella, preferably fresh, grated or chopped

About 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Preheat the oven to 400В°F.

Put the olive oil or butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot or the butter is melted, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften, release their water, and then begin to dry again, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and, if you’re using it, the garlic; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lower the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down so that the mixture bubbles gently and cook, stirring occasionally, while you cook the pasta; don’t let the sauce get too thick.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta until just tender; it should still be too hard to eat. Drain it (don’t shake the colander; allow some water to cling to the noodles) and toss it with the sauce and about half the mozzarella. Grease a large baking dish (9 Г— 13 or the like) and pour or spoon the mixture into it. Top with the remaining mozzarella and the Parmesan if you’re using it and bake until the top is browned and the cheese bubbly, 20 to 30 minutes.

Variations

Baked Ziti with Ricotta. Two ways to go: Stir up to 1 cup of ricotta cheese into the sauce right before using and proceed with the recipe. Or, as you’re putting the ziti into the baking dish, nestle dollops of ricotta in among the pasta and proceed with the recipe.

Baked Ziti with Goat Cheese and Olives. Full flavored and quite meaty: Instead of the mushrooms, use 1 cup pitted olives (try to keep them in large pieces). Use bits of goat cheese instead of the mozzarella.

Nutty Baked Ziti. Really rich but really good: Instead of making a tomato sauce, omit the mushrooms, onion, garlic, and tomatoes and make the sauce for Pasta with Walnut Sauce. Toss the ziti with the sauce, along with Pan-Cooked Mushrooms, Dry Style if you like. Top with Fresh Bread Crumbs and proceed with the recipe.