Baked Ziti with Pesto

One of my favorite things about cooking is to add or make changes to recipes that I have tried in the past. When I first started cooking, I followed every recipe exactly by the book. I still follow recipes, much to many hipster and foodie’s dismay. I mean, seriously, those people who say they never follow a recipe are either lying or don’t bake any desserts…Or they don’t understand that the recipe they once memorized is still a recipe, whether you still follow alongside the piece of paper or not. (side note: I apologize for the rant, but twice in one week I had people tell me that they “never follow a recipe” and it kinda hurt my feelings. There is no shame in sharing and revamping ideas. It’s inspiration. It’s art.)

I love to take other people’s ideas and either continue to use them or come up with a twist of my own. The other day, I was craving baked ziti, but tired of the same  dish I have already made several times. I opened my refrigerator and discovered a forgotten container of pesto and wondered how that would fare in my planned dish. Since I’m still new to this whole cooking thing, I decided to see if my idea was even doable and low and behold, Food and Wine confirmed my craving.

I bring to you: Baked Ziti with Pesto

Baked Ziti with Pesto

Adapted from Food and Wine

1/2 pound ziti

2 tablespoons oil

1 onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 1/2 cups grated, fresh mozzarella cheese

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup store-bought or homemade pesto

Heat the oven to 350°. Grease an 8-by-8-inch baking dish.

Cook the pasta. You want to make this slightly al-dente.

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of the oil over moderately low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. You don’t want this to get browned. Add the tomatoes, salt, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat and cook until very thick, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. Remove the bay leaf.

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, 1 cup of the mozzarella, about half the Parmesan, the pesto, and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Mix well.

Put half of the cooked pasta into the prepared baking dish and top with about a third of the tomato sauce. Spread the ricotta mixture on the sauce in an even layer. Cover with the remaining pasta and then the remaining sauce. Top with the remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella and the remaining Parmesan. Drizzle with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil. Bake until bubbling, about 30 minutes. Let sit 10 minutes before cutting.