Monday, October 19, 2009

Ziti Casserole with Fresh Ricotta Cheese

Yesterday, our baby girl turned two! My goodness! Happy Birthday Charlotte! Not unlike her big brother, this girl loves to eat.  It's amazing how their likes and dislikes emerge so early - some of her favorites include fish (especially salmon,) pickles (actually, she'll eat anything pickled, not just cukes,) cheeses, tomatoes and pasta. For our family dinner celebration at home, I sat down to think about what would make our little girl happiest for her special day. Cheese, tomatoes, pasta... endless possibilites to combine these three items into something delicious. During our trip to NY last month, mom made a ziti casserole for the kids while Jim and I enjoyed a peaceful escape to the Adirondaks. She was awed, and a bit scared, by the quantity of food the two kids put away.

I also thought this would be the perfect excuse to make some fresh ricotta. While I've made mozzarella with friends on several occassions, this would be my first time to make ricotta. In my opinion, making it yourself is a bonus because organic ricotta costs $8 (!) at the store and to make it from a 1/2 gallon of organic milk costs $3. I ought to look next time I'm shopping, but I think that even regular (non-organic) ricotta cheese costs about $4. The process to make cheese is quick and straightforward - heat up milk with citric acid, wait a few minutes, separate curds from whey, and hang to drain for half an hour. Easy.

Even without making your own cheese, this recipe is easy and delicious. It was the first time I made it in our home, but will definitely be adding it in to the rotation, even when it is not for a birthday dinner. If you are interested in making cheese at home, definitely visit the cheese queen where you can order supplies.

Ziti casserole
Adapted from an old newspaper clipping which mom scanned & emailed

1 lb ziti (seems that most pasta comes in 14.5oz boxes these days, that's fine. I used penne rigate as Barrilla doesn't make a whole grain version of ziti.)
1 lb ricotta cheese (again, hidden inflation means this is probably 15oz. Or make your own ricotta using 1/2 gallon of milk.)
2 eggs
1/2 C parmesan cheese
3-4 oz mozzarella cheese, sliced or shredded
1/4 C parsley
1 qt jar pasta sauce

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Cook pasta according to directions and drain. Mix ricotta, eggs, parmesan, parsley and tomato sauce. Add cooked pasta and combine. Transfer mixture to a greased (cooking spray) casserole dish and top with mozzarella cheese. Bake for 30 minutes.

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