I met BAKED ZITI when I was in college. It was when a friend invited me to dine at Sbarro. It was also the very moment I fell in love with Italian Pasta. Every bud on my tongue found the sour tomatoes, pungent onion and overpowering flavor of basil and hundreds of herbs irresistable.
Ziti is a 2 inch long tube pasta and is like a traditional macaroni pasta which most Filipinos use. The name ZITI means fiancee and is traditionally served at weddings in Italy. Cooking Baked Ziti is not so famous in the country but good thing Pinoys are now welcoming new tastes and flavors of other cultures’ dishes.
1 kilo ziti pasta
for pasta sauce:
3 tbsp. cooking oil
3 large white onions, minced
1/2 kilo lean ground beef
1/2 kilo ham, sliced
1 kilo spaghetti sauce
1/4 cup tomato paste, dissolved in 1 cup water
1/2 cup cream cheese
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
1 cup water
for cream cheese:
2 tbsp. butter
1 cup milk
1/2 cup cream cheese
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
To prepare the Ziti noodles:
Heat a large pot of 3 liters water. Bring to full simmer. Add 2 tablespoon of salt. Add pasta and boil, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until pasta is cooked and firm. Drain the cooked pasta with a colander. wash with running water until pasta is not so warm so as to keep the pasta separated from one another and to reduce the heat to prevent them be starchy. Then, set aside.
NOTE: Do not add oil just what most Pinoys use to do when cooking pasta. Adding oil will let your sauce slip of the pasta, instead of letting the pasta absorb the sauce, leaving it flavorless pasta.
To prepare ziti sauce:
Brown onion and ground beef in oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sliced ham. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until sides of ham turned light brown.
Add spaghetti sauce, 1 cup water. Bring to slow simmer for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then add the dissolved tomato paste, stir constantly so that the tomato paste will blend with the sauce. Add salt, pepper and Italian seasoning.
In a large bowl, put about 2 cups of the sauce and dissolve the cream cheese. After mixing the sauce and cream cheese, transfer the mixture to the pan and stir constantly. Cook for 5 more minutes or until sauce is well-blended with the cheese.
To prepare cream cheese:
In a small pan, put milk, butter, cream cheese and cheddar cheese and bring to slow boil over low heat. Stir constantly until cream cheese and cheddar cheese melt.
To bake the pasta:
Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Spread a thin layer of butter in your baking dish. Put a small amount of sauce on your baking dish. Set aside.
Reserve a half cup of pasta sauce.
On a very large bowl, put cooked ziti and pasta sauce. Mix well so sauce will cover all pasta.
Transfer the pasta on your baking dish. Top with reserved pasta sauce and cream cheese.
Bake for about 20 minutes.
Serve while hot.