Baked ziti probably isn’t something you really think about unless you’re a) American – and even then, it seems like something the eastern half of the country is far more familiar with – or b) of Italian heritage (not to be mistaken for someone who is actually from Italy as ziti is one of those dishes that emerged as a hybrid of Italian and American influences). It gets a terrific amount of coverage on The Sopranos, which obviously means that I had to re-watch The Sopranos for the umpteenth time (all those ziti references – it was research!). Honestly, how can any Sopranos fan think of ziti without picturing Carmela’s lacquered talons pulling a bubbling casserole dish out of the oven? It’s basically required watching when you’re eating your way through test batch after test batch of pasta. If you’re totally in the dark as to what baked ziti even is, think of baked spaghetti (delicious) but with longer, thicker macaroni-type noodles instead and a healthy scattering of chewy, melty pieces of fresh mozzarella. Amazing, right? Tony Soprano did not earn his glorious gut through caprese salads – hell no – that baby was built on ziti.
For your perusal today I place 2 contenders before you: a classic, mozzarella-laden, pancetta-laced baked ziti and an updated, more Mediterranean-ized version with fresh tomatoes, feta, and a subtle kick of chile. Keep in mind that whichever way you go, no one is unhappy when you set a platter of cheesy baked noodles down in front of them (except for the lactose-averse, but even some of them will happily suffer the consequences later for a half hour of immensely hedonistic pleasure).