March 06, 2008

Baked Penne with Four Cheeses


12 oz short tubular pasta like penne or ziti

for the sauce:
3/4 lb ground beef
32 oz can tomatoes in puree, chopped*
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon oregano

for the cheese mixture:
15 ounce ricotta cheese
5 oz frozen chopped spinach
1 egg
4 oz grated Parmesan cheese
4 oz asiago, grated
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

for sprinkling
mozzarella cheese, finely shredded

Preheat oven to 350. Grease a 9x13-inch baking dish. Cook pasta until almost al dente. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients of the cheese mixture. Set aside. Heat oil in large saucepan. Add onion, garlic and carrot, red pepper flakes and sauté until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. And the ground beef and sauté until almost cooked through. Drain off any rendered fat if needed. Mix in tomato paste, tomato chunks in puree and oregano. Simmer until mixture thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, covered, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spread a small amount of tomato sauce over bottom of the dish. Top with some pasta. Dot with cheese mixture. Top with more sauce. Repeat until all of the pasta, cheese and sauce is gone, ending with sauce. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Cover with foil and bake until heated through, about 35-40 minutes. Remove the foil and cook about 2-3 minutes to brown the cheese on top. Allow to sit a few minutes before serving.

*I just stick a long knife into the center of the can and slice towards the can to cut the tomatoes into manageable chunks. Much less messy than using a cutting board.

My thoughts:
Matt really likes baked ziti so I created this recipe to be sort of an über ziti using all of his favorite ingredients. I did use penne because we had it on hand, but any sort of short pasta would work. It is actually just as good in a vegetarian version, just omit the ground beef and follow the rest of the directions as is. I just added the beef because that's how Matt likes it, it is great either way. It can also be made the day ahead, all the way up to the actially baking, just cover and refrigerate it until you are ready to cook. I'd let it warm up a bit on the counter while you preheat the oven.