During the summer months my friend Andy shows outdoor movies in his backyard: a movie-theater sized screen goes up and seats are arranged on the lawn, while in the background a retro popcorn machine fills with hot, perfectly salted popped corn. Can you imagine a better way to spend a summer evening?Between moving to a new apartment, going on vacation and my starting a new job we weren’t able to make it to one of Andy’s screenings until a few weeks ago, over Labor Day weekend. We picked a good night because it just so happened to be Laurel & Hardy Comedy Night. And did you know that there is a worldwide Laurel & Hardy Appreciation Society? We didn’t either. But there is one and the local chapter gathered that evening to watch four short films: “Early to Bed,” “Any Old Port,” “Helpmates” and “On the Loose.” If you’re not sure who Laurel & Hardy are, here’s a clip from one of their films:
The movies were great – honestly, I hadn’t seen much of Laurel & Hardy before! But, not surprisingly, my favorite part of the evening was the food. In addition to an appreciation for classic films Andy also turns out to be an excellent cook and the baked ziti he served that night was so good I went back for seconds… then sent my husband back for thirds. (He had a few helpings also, it was too good to resist). Also in the offerings were warm garlic bread, salad, and I brought vetekrans, but the baked ziti was the star. As soon as I got home I emailed Andy asking him to please – please! – share his secret. Here was his response:
OK, the secret (IMHO) to making meatless baked ziti that your guests will absolutely love is to replace the ricotta cheese with something better.
Most all baked ziti recipes are the same — you layer the ziti, sauce, ricotta, more ziti, more sauce, and finally top with mozzarella cheese before baking. A few variations, but all are essentially the same.
The problem is, the ricotta cheese acts mainly as a binder in the casserole; it has little flavor of its own, and ricotta tends to be dry.
Do this instead: Starting at the bottom of the pan, mix together half of the cooked ziti with half of the sauce; make sure the bottom of the pan is covered and moist.
Spoon dollops of sour cream evenly on top of the layer; I use about 2 cups of sour cream for a 10 x 13 baking dish (you can substitute part-skim sour cream if you like, but not fat-free!).
Now lay slices of imported provolone cheese evenly to create the next layer (I use imported sharp provolone cheese, it is about twice the price of domestic mild provolone, but the taste it imparts is worth it!). You can alternate between domestic mild and imported sharp if you like. The taste of the provolone melting into the sour cream is magnificent!
Now add a generous layer of shredded whole milk mozzarella; the part skim variety does not melt as well.
Next, add the remaining cooked ziti to form another layer; cover with the remaining sauce. Finally, top the casserole with sliced FRESH mozzarella, store made if possible; it melts exquisitely!
Bake covered in a 400 oven for about an hour, but check for doneness by eye (of course!).
If you want to use store bought sauce, my current favorite is Newman’s Own Marinara sauce; it does not contain high fructose corn syrup.
Of course, you know we made baked ziti lickety split. At first my husband’s Italian heritage was screaming at the use of sour cream – I mean, how could this be, sour cream in baked ziti??? Surely his ancestors would have protested. But when the ziti turned out as good as we remembered he was convinced.
Being a food blogger, you KNOW I asked Andy for permission to share his recipe with you. Recipes like this belong where many people can try them and share them with loved ones.
Below is my take (ingredients wise) on Andy’s recipe – it’s pretty much identical except that we used a tad less sour cream than Andy recommends (see his instructions above). Personally I think it’s the best baked ziti I’ve ever had. My husband says we need to make it again “just to be sure,” but his preliminary conclusion is that it’s definitely among the top three baked zitis he’s ever tasted. Clearly, we’ll have to do some more research. You should too.
Before the recipe, one more thing: I need to announce who won a copy of “Hello Cupcake!” in my last blog post. The lucky lady was Marie, who said in her comment: “News like yours puts everything in perspective. You find out what is really important in life. I’m so happy your little boy is fine. Enjoy him when he comes and keep on baking these delicious looking cakes :)” (I would have posted the comment number but comment threading has rendered those a thing of the past.) Marie, I sent an email your way.
THANK YOU to everyone who commented on that post. I can’t tell you how much your words meant to me. Hugs all around!
And now, the recipe.
Andy’s Decadent Baked Ziti
Recipe by Andrew Lehrfeld
- 1 box of ziti (we used Ronzoni)
- 1 jar of Newmans Own Marinara Sauce
- 1 cup sour cream (Andy uses 2, so go with your instincts!)
- 1 package imported Provolone cheese
- About 1 cup shredded whole milk mozzarella
- 1 large ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cook the ziti according to the package instructions.
In a large bowl, mix the cooked pasta with the jar of pasta sauce. Spoon half of this mixture into the bottom of a large (lasagne sized) baking dish. Next, spoon 1/2 cup of sour cream over the pasta, then follow with a layer of provolone cheese. Sprinkle with the shredded mozzarella.
Spoon the rest of the pasta mixture over the shredded mozzarella. Top with slices of fresh mozzarella.
Cover ziti with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees F for 35 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for about another 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
Baked Ziti Recipes On Other Blogs: