Growing up, my mom didn't cook very many American foods; mostly we stuck to traditional Indonesian dishes. However, she had a particular fondness for casserole, for whatever reason. So when it was casserole night, we always ate the same casserole — a mix of leftover sandwich meat from the school week, usually Oscar Mayer ham, chopped up Kraft singles, diced chicken breast, and elbow macaroni all held together by some sort of creamy concoction I could never readily identify. It was then baked in the oven until all of the elbow macaroni on top turned crunchy and the sides burnt.
I am not happy to say it, but I have to say it — my mother is a wonderful cook and despite having gone to culinary school, I still have no clue how to make many of the traditional dishes she made in my childhood, but casserole night was a night I dreaded. I understood its purpose as a catch-all for anything left in the refrigerator, but I didn't understand why it couldn’t taste better.
Thus, since I started running Recipe SWAT Team, I knew that one week, I would have to confront this challenge: to make a casserole that I would be thrilled to eat. Here's what I came up with.
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 Pound ziti
- One 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1 1/2 Cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 Pound fresh ricotta, crumbled
- 1 Pound fresh, salted mozzarella, diced finely
- 1 1/2 Cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1/2 Cup extra-virgin olive oil
Bring a large pot of salted to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta, cook according to the package directions, and drain.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and position a rack in the middle of the oven.
Spread a layer of crushed tomato on the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and scatter a handful of parsley over it. Scatter a sparse layer of pasta on top, followed by a layer of the cheeses. Top with additional tomato sauce and parsley, some olive oil, and then a sparse layer of pasta on top.
Repeat until all of the ingredients are used, but make sure the last layer is mostly sauce and cheese, unless you like lots of crunchy pasta on top. (Feel free to dump and stir, but I prefer to layer like a lasagna.)
Place in the oven on the middle rack, and bake until the cheese is melted and the top is browned, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and serve.