In New York, today is a day for cheesy snow-day comfort food.
This dish could be made in a single pot but I must confess that I transferred the pasta to a casserole dish prior to browning it in the oven. This was completely unnecessary but I liked the increased surface area exposed for browning.
The recipe was adapted from Cook’s Country. I modified the method and proportions. I also used crushed tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. We ate it with garlic bread and green salad. Great.
Yield: Serves 8
- 10 to 11 ounces (about 4 links) sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 6 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 3/4 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 2/3 cups water
- 16 ounces (1 pound) ziti
- 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) chopped fresh basil (chiffonade)
- 9-10 ounces (9 cups) baby spinach, coarsely chopped
- 8 ounces whole-milk fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 cups)
- 2 2/3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 1/3 cups), divided (I used Parmigiano-Reggiano)
- 11 ounces whole-milk ricotta cheese
- Cook sausage in Dutch oven over medium-high heat, breaking up pieces with spoon, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. (I used a large enameled cast iron Dutch oven.)
- Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Stir in crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes and their juice, salt, oregano, sugar, and pepper flakes. Bring mixture to boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.
- Stir in water, pasta, and 6 tablespoons chopped basil. Increase heat to high and bring to boil.
- Reduce heat to medium and simmer vigorously, uncovered, until pasta is still very firm but just starting to soften, 6 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Adjust oven rack 8 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. (I set my oven to Broil+Max @450 degrees.)
- Remove pot from heat and stir in spinach, half of the mozzarella, and 1 cup grated Parmesan. If using a separate casserole dish, transfer the mixture after incorporating the spinach and cheese. (I placed the casserole dish on a rimmed baking sheet and covered the handles with foil to protect them.)
- Dollop surface of pasta evenly with spoonfuls of ricotta.
- Top with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Broil ziti until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, 5 to 7 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time.
- Transfer to wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes.
- Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons basil and serve.