I've found that most of my recipes that fit this bill are traditional comfort food with universal appeal, like pot roast and chicken with rosemary. And then there's my ace in the hole, baked ziti.
Everyone loves this dish. I can't tell you how many times I've made it, or how many times I've given away the recipe. It's great for company, because you can assemble it ahead of time and bake it off when your guests arrive. It's also unfailingly reliable. And who can resist a bubbling tray of cheesy, tomato-y baked pasta, full of sweet Italian sausage and oregano? With a crisp salad and a bottle of wine, dinner is done.
I mentioned this dish once before, although that post was mostly a love letter to San Marzano tomatoes. And I didn't post the recipe, or any photos. Since I made it last weekend, I decided to do a proper post
I got the recipe from the Chronicle about six years ago, during the age of "The Sopranos," when TV critics and foodies (and one Soprano-obsessed Hungry Dog) were snickering about gabagool and salivating at the thought of Carmela's ricotta pie. In fact, this recipe is called Baked Ziti, Soprano-Style.
While "The Sopranos" is long over, I'll always be grateful that someone came up with this recipe and that I happened to spy it in the paper. It's a bestseller, no question about it. I've made it countless times and always with stellar results. Get past the silly name, and you'll be rewarded with a fabulous new go-to recipe to add to your collection, one that will satisfy your cravings for cold-weather comfort food while duly impressing your guests.
from the San Franciso Chronicle
1/4 c. olive oil
1 lb. Italian fennel sausage (or other sweet Italian sausage)
1 large onion, finely chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
1/3 c. dry red wine
1 (35 oz.) can canned tomatoes, chopped with their juices
1/4 c. fresh oregano OR 2 T. dried oregano
1 c. fresh ricotta
1 c. grated parmesan
1/3 c. chopped Italian parsley
1 lb ziti or penne
1/2 lb mozzarella, preferably fresh, torn or sliced
Preheat the oven to 425. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Grease a 9 x 13 baking dish with about 1 T. olive oil. Remove sausage from its casing and crumble. Set aside.
Heat remaining 3 T. oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent. Turn up heat to medium high and add sausage; brown for about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper. Pour off and discard most of the fat in the pan*. Add the wine and let it reduce for about 6 minutes or until it is almost gone.
Add the tomatoes and their juices and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. When the sauce begins to thicken, add the oregano and stir well. Season to taste again. Turn off heat.
Combine the ricotta, half the parmesan, and the parsley in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
Cook pasta until al dente (do not cook completely). Drain well, reserving about 1/4 c. of the cooking water. Toss pasta with ricotta mixture. Toss again with the tomato and sausage sauce. If the mixture appears dry, add a splash of the reserved cooking water.
Pour the mixture into the baking dish, sprinkle with remaining parmesan, and dot with mozzarella. Bake 15-20 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned. (Often I'll set it under the broiler for 1-2 minutes).
*I don’t usually have to do this, since the sausage I get is fairly lean.