Cook’s Illustrated is the parent company of Cook’s Illustrated and Cook’s Country magazines, as well as the CooksIllustrated website (with recipes, equipment ratings, taste tests, tips and techniques as in the magazine), the America’s Test Kitchen television show, and all the related cookbooks and DVDs.
I’ve been recovering from a virus that had me in bed for over four days; earlier in the week when I couldn’t concentrate enough to read, I was spending a few hours each afternoon watching episodes of ATK TV and eating comfort food while snuggling with my 7-year-old. When I was a kid, comfort food meant mandarin oranges, “instant” stuffing, and Howard Johnson’s frozen macaroni and cheese - don’t judge me (or my mother!).
This week I craved a more mature comfort food – something with lots of flavor, oozing with warmth and … comfort! I turned to Cook’s Illustrated (March 2009) and found the following recipe for baked ziti. The biggest eye-openers for me were finally using mise en place (measuring and prepping all ingredients before beginning the recipe; yes, I know this is second nature to many of you, but I never wanted to take the time to do it. Lesson learned.), and boiling the pasta until it’s just softened – not even al dente – as it continues to cook once it’s in the oven.
- 1 pound 1% cottage cheese
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese
- table salt
- 1 pound ziti
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 5 medium garlic cloves, minced (I confess, I used the pre-minced jarred garlic)
- 1 28-oz can tomato sauce
- 1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves (I’m worth fresh basil, even off-season!)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 cup whole milk
- 8 oz low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack in middle position
- Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan together; set aside
- Bring 4 quarts of water to boil, stir in 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; cook, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes
- Drain pasta and leave in colander (no need to wash pot, you’ll use it again)
- Heat oil and garlic in large skillet over medium heat; allow garlic to release flavor, but not brown (about 2 minutes)
- Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and oregano
- Simmer about 10 minutes, until thickened
- Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup of the chopped basil and 1 teaspoon sugar; season with salt and pepper
- Combine cornstarch and milk in (now empty) pasta pot
- Bring to simmer and cook 4-6 minutes, until thickened
- Off heat, add Parmesan cheese mixture, 1 cup tomato sauce from skillet, and 3/4 cup cubed mozzarella; stir to combine
- Add pasta, and stir until coated
- Transfer pasta mixture to 9×13 baking dish; top with remaining tomato sauce, then top with the last 3/4 cup mozzarella and 1/2 cup Parmesan
- Cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes
- Remove foil and cook an additional 30 or so minutes, until cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown
- Remove from oven and cool 20 minutes before serving
- Sprinkle remaining chopped basil over individual servings
We served this with a simple green salad and homemade bread (yes, I slept well that night!); it inspired a spontaneous “thanks for making such a great dinner, Mom!” from my 13-year-old. I say – Thank you, Cook’s Illustrated!
I emailed Cook’s Illustrated as I wrote this blog post, wondering if the original recipe had been reproduced in one of their cookbooks (this post is paraphrased, and reflects any changes I made). What timing! The original Baked Ziti recipe (including the “Why this recipe works” intro) is on page 217 of the brand-spanking new The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook: 2000 Recipes from 20 Years of America’s Most Trusted Food Magazine (pictured at the top of this page). Yes, it’s on my holiday wish list
To find out what’s happening in other kitchens of the blogosphere, check out Beth Fish Reads‘ Weekend Cooking. You may find other recipes, cookbook reviews (or cookbook coveting), reviews of foodie movies, mystery kitchen gadgets … it’s a potpourri!