Valarie made her signature baked ziti (ziti al forno) last night. I was never a fan of baked ziti as I always associated it with funeral, banquets and weddings. The ziti always seemed to be a subpar version or a just good enough version to get it out of the kitchen to serve 50 or 100 people.
After a some research and a great article by Chef Sandra Lewis of life “Life at the Table”, I better understand why it’s sometimes served at weddings. She reminded me that the word ziti is derived from the word zite which loosely translates to fiancee. So historically, baked ziti was served to nobles at weddings and celebrations. I always feel like a noble when I enjoy this dish.
Valarie perfected her baked ziti and I have loved it ever since. She starts hers with a roux (equal parts flour and butter) and then adds chicken bouillon, while milk, tomato sauce (chunky for me) and a shredded cheese combination. Yesterday day it was a Colby and other times a combinatin with parmesanshredded American cheese among others. She then adds combination of spices including Italian seasonings, and olive oil. After the ziti is cooked, she places it in a pyrex casserole pan and tops it with a combination of bread crumbs and parmesan cheese and bakes it to perfection. It always has a beautiful crusty top with a reich creamy tomato sauce on the inside. I will have her prepare the exact recipe for me later this week, but thought these pictures would properly represent the quality of this dish! An inexpensive dish packed full of flavor worthy of nobles! Buon appetito!!Print
Valarie’s Baked Ziti (Ziti Al Forna)
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Cuisine: Italian
- Roux – Equal parts butter (1 stick) and flour (1/2 cup)
- 5 cubes of chicken bouillon
- 6 cups – whole milk
- 2 Tbsp. of Italian seasonings
- 1 tsp. of ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. of sea salt
- 3 Tbsp. Olive oil, plus more for drizzling.
- 1 – 15oz. can of tomato sauce
- 4 – cups of shredded cheese combine – Colby, mozzarella, and cheddar
- ½ cup of Panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup of parmesan cheese
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Prepare sauce mixture: Melt butter on medium high heat then add bouillon cubes. Once melted, add flour and to make the roux. Once combined, slowly add milk & whisk until smooth. Add spices & olive oil. Bring to a slow simmer and cook for about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce whisk until blended. Then add cheeses in small batches until melted. Remove from heat.
- Cook pasta al dente – approximately 6-7 minutes and strain.
- Place pasta into Pyrex glass cooking casserole dish – approximately two 9”x12” and drizzle with olive oil.
- Pour sauce mix over pasta and mix, then sprinkle panko breadcrumbs and parmesan on top.
- Bake for 25 minutes and serve.
Pro Tip: Melt 1-2 Tbsp. of butter and toast breadcrumbs until they become golden brown.
Valarie usually makes two types for us at home. One with chunky tomato sauce for Dale and one with smooth tomato sauce for the kids. On many occasions she will change up the cheese combination for variety.