My husband loves baked ziti. When Melanie from My Kitchen Cafe posted this recipe on her blog a while back I was excited. I made it this past week for my husband and we all loved it. The original recipe doesn't call for meat but I added it in to get our protein in. While I loved it with the meat, I am also excited to try it without. This recipe is definitely a keeper!
adapted from Cook's Illustrated
1 pound of ground beef
1 pound 1% cottage cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 ounces grated parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 pound ziti or other similar pasta (like penne)
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 medium garlic cloves, finely minced (about 5 teaspoons)
1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil (use 1/2 cup fresh basil if you have it but add it to the sauce after it has simmered and you take it off the heat)
1 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream (or substitute whole milk but increase the amount of cornstarch to 2 teaspoons and the cooking time in step 3 by 1 to 2 minutes)
8 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Whisk the cottage cheese, eggs and 1 cup of the paremsan cheese together in a medium bowl; set aside. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, about 7 minutes (the pasta will finish cooking in the oven). Drain pasta and leave in colander. Do not wash the large pot.
While the pasta is cooking, heat oil and garlic in a large skillet over medium heat until the garlic is fragrant but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add ground beef and cook until browned. Once meat is cooked through, stir in the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, sugar, basil and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Take off heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Stir cornstarch into heavy cream and transfer mixture to the now-empty large pot the pasta cooked in. Set the pot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove pot from heat and add cottage cheese mixture, 1 cup tomato sauce, and 3/4 cup mozzarella, then stir to combine. Add pasta and stir to coat thoroughly with sauce.
Transfer mixture to a 9X13-inch baking dish and spread remaining tomato sauce evenly over pasta. Sprinkle remaining 3/4 cup mozzarella and remaining 1/2 cup parmesan cheese over the top. Cover the baking dish with foil that has been lightly sprayed with cooking spray and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove foil and continue to cook until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer. Cool for 10 minutes. Serve.