Monday, May 23, 2011

Baked Ziti

from Cooks Illustrated

NOTE: The test kitchen prefers heavy cream, but whole milk can be substituted by increasing the cornstarch to 2 teaspoons and increasing the cooking time in step 3 by 1 to 2 minutes. Either whole-milk or part-skim mozzarella can be used, but avoid preshredded cheese, as it does not melt well. Do not use nonfat cottage cheese, it will break down when baked.

1 pound whole-milk or 1 percent cottage cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 pound ziti or other short, tubular pasta
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)

(1) Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the cottage cheese, eggs and 1 cup of the Parmesan cheese together in a medium bowl; set aside. Bring 4 quarts water to a boil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta; cook, stirring often, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the pasta and leave it in the colander (do not wash the pot).

(2) Meanwhile, heat the oil and garlic in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat until the garlic is fragrant but not brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and oregano and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Off the heat, stir in 1/2 cup of the basil and the sugar, then season with salt and pepper to taste.

(3) Stir the cornstarch into the cream in a small bowl; transfer the mixture to the now-empty pot set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add the cottage cheese mixture, 1 cup of the tomato/oregano/basil/sugar sauce, and 3/4 cup of the mozzarella, then stir to combine. Add the pasta and stir to coat throughly with sauce.

(4) Transfer the pasta mixture to a 13 by 9-inch baking dish and spread the remaining tomato/oregano/basil/sugar sauce evenly over the pasta. Sprinkle the remaining 3/4 cup mozzarella and the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese over the top. Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 30 minutes.

(5) Remove the foil and continue to cook until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer. Let cool for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons basil and serve.

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