Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The bestseller

Every cook has in their repertoire a few dishes that are surefire hits, or bestsellers, as my dad would say. These are recipes you can practically put together blindfolded, homey enough just for the family but special enough to serve to guests. You know, the ones everyone gushes over, thinking you slaved away for hours, when really you just made something you've made a hundred times before, something you put together while intermittently checking your email, playing tag with the dog (yes, we do that), and talking on the phone with your sister.

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).

Serves 4-6.
*I don’t usually have to do this, since the sausage I get is fairly lean.


  1. Tony and Carmella would be proud! ;)

  2. And Janice would pretend she made it :) Thanks for sharing the recipe - I don't do baked pastas much, will try this.

  3. I love when I come across a great recipe in the newspaper. A couple of my favorites for Christmas were clipped out many moons ago and I'm still baking them every year.
    Your ziti looks delicious. Wish I had a big pan of it for dinner tonight.

  4. I have of one those made a hundred times, can do it blind-folded, serve it up to guests and it is always a sure fire hit recipes! Your recipe looks fabulous! Since it is your sure fire hit, then I know its got to be good. This is on my list to try. Thanks.

  5. I love this! The red wine and sausage must make it just wonderful...mmmm...I think I can taste it :) Thanks for stopping by my blog so I could find you :)

  6. Food gal: I'd like to think so!

    shaz: you are totally right about Janice.

    oneordinaryday: yep, some of my favorite recipes are clippings I've been toting around forever...

    Velva and Tiffiny: thank you both for stopping by! I'm glad to have discovered your blogs as well!

  7. Your photos are wonderful- they make me want to run right out and gather all the ingredients!

  8. at first I thought it was mac n cheese... looks delicious, I totally love fennel sausage!

  9. Wow - we have a major love affair with San Marzano tomatoes too - so I will definitely be giving this a try - like tomorrow night!

    Thanks for your kind words about the loss of my dog, it's always nice to know someone else understands the bond.

  10. Oh man, that looks wicked good. Baked ziti is the bomb.

  11. I heart baked ziti and your dish sounds delicious! Thanks for sharing :)

  12. This looks absolutely delicious. I'm stealing this recipe.

  13. Thanks for all the compliments! And I'm happy to share. I don't believe in secret recipes :)

    Megan: absolutely, I understand... and am sending good thoughts your way.

  14. I was very happy to come home last night to dinner cooked by the Sausage Doc. It was, however, an unusual dish, something like beer puttanesca (yowza!), courtesy of Saveur mag. The kids ate the noodles a bit dutifully, then asked for milk and scampered off in search of dessert. Sausage Doc looked sadly at the heap o' noodles and reprised DJ, saying "Not a bestseller..." BTW, gotta make the ziti.

  15. By the Power of Greyskull, this looks like a winner! I don't get to cook much with pasta since my sig-other is Mr. No/Low Carb, but I may have to just make a batch of this for myself and om-nom it all to myself!!!

  16. Hi Hungry Dog: Gillian from unfussyfare here. This ziti looks like heaven. I plan to make it tomorrow. One question, though: 35 oz can of tomatoes? I haven't seen this size can. I can add (sort of), so it's no problem to open a 28 oz. can and add half of a 14 oz.. But I just wanted to confirm the amount with you. Thanks!

  17. Hi Gillian, so glad you are going to make this! I have never seen a 35-oz can either--I use a 28-oz one and add another 7 oz. Let me know how yours turns out!