We are all familiar with baked macaroni, a staple in children’s parties. Not only is it easy to prepare and easy to serve, it also helps one fulfill one’s obligation to serve noodles at a birthday party as a paean to long life.
If you’re a mother, you’ve probably made baked macaroni a number of times for your kids’ birthdays.
For a change, give this dish a new twist by using a different shape of pasta. Instead of elbow macaroni, try using ziti, penne, farfalle (ribbon-shaped pasta) or even fusilli (pasta twisted into corkscrew shapes).
The change will perk up your obligatory noodle dish and its new name (baked ziti, for example, instead of baked macaroni), can rekindle your guests’ interest in an old standby.
However, do not use long pasta noodles such as spaghetti or linguine for this dish. Short tube-shaped pasta such as the above-mentioned ziti and penne works best with tomato-based sauces such as the one in this recipe.
Another difference in this recipe is that the noodles are cooked only partially in the boiling water. You finish cooking them in the sauce itself. This makes the noodles absorb the flavors of the sauce better, thereby making them tastier. Baked Ziti/Penne Pasta
Makes 8-10 servings
For the ziti:
16 c water, for boiling
1 tbsp salt
1 500-g pack ziti or penne pasta noodles
For the tomato sauce:
¼ c butter
½ c chopped onions
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large chicken breast, diced
2 c chicken broth
1 c tomato paste
2 c tomato sauce
3 tbsp sugar
Salt and pepper
For the topping:
2 tbsp butter
2 c grated Cheddar cheese, divided
1 c bread crumbs
Cook the ziti/penne noodles:
In a large cooking pot or casserole, bring water and salt to a rolling boil. Add the ziti noodles and simmer until noodles are half-cooked, around 5 minutes. Drain the noodles, add them to the simmering tomato sauce (see below).
Make the tomato sauce:
In a large, deep pan or casserole, heat the butter at low heat until melted. Sauté the onions in the butter for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and continue sautéing until fragrant (do not burn the garlic).
Stir in the chicken breasts and chicken broth. Turn the heat to medium. Simmer until the chicken is fully cooked. Pour in the tomato paste and tomato sauce. Season with sugar, salt and pepper. Let simmer for about five minutes. Add the half-cooked ziti or penne noodles and simmer until noodles are cooked al dente, about 5 more minutes.
Assemble and make the topping:
Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC) for about 10 minutes. Spoon the noodles into a large (about 13” x 9” x 2”) oven-proof dish. Dot the top with cubes of butter. Mix the grated cheese and bread crumbs. Sprinkle the cheese mixture on top. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
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Once you start boiling the water for the noodles, begin cooking the tomato sauce so it will be ready when the noodles are half cooked. Then you can immediately transfer the half-cooked noodles to the simmering sauce.
You can make your own chicken broth or use the canned ones available in supermarkets.