This has got to be one of the best damn pasta dishes around, hands down.
Yes, italian food is another of my favorites. In fact, I think it may be a required food group, isn’t it? Well, if it isn’t, it should be.
My addiction to this started out innocently enough. I had a similar version when I visited my sister in Florida. That recipe came from Cooks Illustrated, and was a simplified version, meant to be easy, put together and then baked in the skillet. It was delicious. When I later went to make it at home, I found a recipe for a re-vamped version of the original. A little more prep work but boy, did it sound good.
So I waited until the weekend when I could take my time and make sure I had the freshest ingredients on the day I would make it. It called for quite a bit of fresh basil. I got part way into it and found that I didn’t have enough basil. Well, when you live in a town like mine, your fresh herb options are pretty much non-existent, and since I wasn’t about to make the 20 mile jaunt to the bigger supermarkets, I started rummaging and I improvised. It was AWE-SOME.
A few months later, I made it again, only this time I made sure I had all of the necessary quantities of ingredients.
Wow. We were less than impressed. Not that it wasn’t good, it was. It just didn’t have that WOW factor that it had the last time.
Okay, scratch the original and go back to what I had improvised.
AND, the improvised version means a lot less chopping of basil, unless you want to make your own pesto, which would be even better, but I haven’t taken it that far yet. You could also put pepperoni, italian sausage, or ground beef in here, whatever floats your boat, and serve it with a salad and garlic bread. YUM.
This is supposed to make one large pan full. Since I don’t need that much at once anymore, I divided it into 3 smallish pie pans. I put them all together, topped them with foil, then froze them. Baked them almost as it shows in the recipe but for a little longer with the foil on. Three for the price of one. Doulble winner!
- 1 pound cottage cheese (I used 2%)
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 3 ounces grated Parmesan cheese - about 1½ cups (I grated fresh)
- Table salt
- 1 pound ziti or other short, tubular pasta (I used mini mastaciolli)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 3 medium garlic cloves, minced (microplane!) or pressed through garlic press (about 3 teaspoons)
- 1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ -1/2 cup GOOD quality prepared basil pesto
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Ground black pepper
- ¾ teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 cup heavy cream (see note)
- 12-16 ounces low-moisture whole-milk mozzarella cheese, cut into ¼-inch pieces (about 2-3 cups) (see note) I used the old part skim kind and it works fine. Just DONT use pre-grated..
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan together in medium bowl; set aside. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in large Dutch oven over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and pasta; cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain pasta and leave in colander (do not wash Dutch oven). IT WILL COOK MORE DURING BAKING.
- Meanwhile, heat oil and garlic in 12-inch skillet over medium heat until garlic is fragrant but not brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Off heat, stir in the basil pesto to taste, (I used around ⅓ cup), the basil, and sugar, then season with salt and pepper. Not too much salt, as the cheese has lots.
- Stir cornstarch into heavy cream in small bowl; transfer mixture to now-empty Dutch oven set over medium heat. Bring to simmer and cook until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes, just a minute or two. Remove pot from heat and add cottage cheese mixture, 1 cup tomato sauce, and 1 cup mozzarella, then stir to combine. Add pasta and stir to coat thoroughly with sauce.
- Transfer pasta mixture to 13- by 9-inch baking dish (or three small pie pans) and spread remaining tomato sauce evenly over pasta. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella and remaining ½ cup Parmesan over top. Cover baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove foil and continue to cook until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer. Cool for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with additional chopped basil and serve.