Recipe, S'il Vous Plait (RSVP)-Marinara Sauce and Baked Ziti

Do you have recipes that you've made for so long that you don't even think about the process, you just do them? Then someone asks you for the recipe and you have to think about measurements and steps and you respond 'Oh, that's an easy one, seriously, anyone can do it.' Except that they can't, because it's not something they do with regularity.

It's like that for me and most Italian dishes, because I grew up watching mom and well, we're coming up on 34 or 35 years that I've been making some of these things. Which is probably why I made Baked Ziti for my class 'snack' the other night. It's quick (relatively), it's easy and it feeds a lot of people for next to nothing.

First, the marinara. I know I've said it before, but I can't remember if I did on MomDot or here that each of my siblings has their own take on my mom's basic marinara recipe. The trick to a good marinara is to let it cook on low heat for a loooooooong time. For instance, the batch that went into this was heated on the smallest of the three rings of my stovetop, on low, for almost 24 hours. If you don't want to leave the stove on, after you've done the initial boil, you can switch it to a crock pot-that will work just as well.

Marinara Sauce
One large can of crushed tomatoes - I used the Angela Mia brand from Sam's this time. It's 108 ounces, if you want to add up smaller cans.
1/3 cup olive oil
2 sweet onions, sliced thin, then chopped up.
2 peppers, sliced thin, then chopped up (this is optional)
1/4 cup dried basil (yes, you read that right)
3 tablespoons garlic (this batch only had garlic powder because I ran out of fresh-either works)
2 tablespoons onion powder
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoons Italian spice blend

Now, these are not exact measurements, so don't worry if you put too much of one thing and not enough of another. If you don't like a spice, leave it out. If you like another (for instance, thyme goes great with tomatoes), by all means, put it in. This is why my family has eight kids and eight different variations on a theme.

Chop up your veggies. If I'm feeling generous, I'll dice up some mushrooms and put them in, too, but that's your choice. Place the olive oil in a LARGE dutch oven or sauce pot, turn the heat to medium and then add the veggies and your spices and mix well. If you're using fresh garlic, wait until the onions are translucent, then add it and the can of tomatoes.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for an hour. If you want to swap to a crock pot, this is the time to do it. Either way, you want to put the sauce on the lowest setting your stovetop will do. If you're like me and have a graduated burner ceramic cooktop, use the smallest setting on the three ring burner. If your stove doesn't, then place the pot on the smallest burner on the lowest setting.

Cook for a minimum of 8 hours. I've been known to simmer sauce for about 24 hours and that's when the flavors become deep and complex. Plus the house smells like my mom's did and that's the best food of love memory a girl can have.

So, now that you have marinara for many meals, what are you going to make? Baked Ziti for a dozen! (or 20, if everyone is being polite and having dainty portions). Actually, it's rigatoni noodles, but no one understands Baked Rigatoni.

Baked Ziti
2 pkgs (16 oz) Rigatoni noodles, cooked and drained
1 small container (~15 ounces) Ricotta cheese
1 cup (8 oz) shredded mozzarella or pizza blend cheese
6 cups marinara sauce (recipe above)

In a very large bowl, combine these four ingredients, then place Ziti in a 13x9 pan and bake at 350〫for 30 minutes OR place in a 4.5 quart crock pot and cook on low for one hour. If you don't want leftovers, just halve the recipe.



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