Baked ziti is a real crowd pleaser. It is easy to assemble, so it's one of those recipes that you can double or triple on those occasions when you have to feed your kids' whole soccer team. It is also a versatile recipe as we become more aware of our intake of nutritious proteins and vegetables; it is delicious if you add chicken or steamed vegetables (even leftover veggies would make a great filling). Legend has it that as Attila approached Rome, Pope Leo I brought baked ziti with him to meet the invader. After the meal, Attila developed serious gas, considered a bad omen by the gods, and turned around and left Rome untouched. I don't know many who could leave a steaming plate of baked ziti untouched. Sicilian in origin, this was a favorite of many Italian immigrants, who could take the ziti into the fields or mines with them and have a tasty lunch.
1 pound ziti
1 pound fresh ricotta , drained
9 fresh basil leaves
1 pound low-moisture mozzarella, cut in 1-inch cubes
1 cup shredded provola
5 cups Marinara sauce (See online recipe)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and add ziti. Cook the ziti until just al dente, about 10 to 12 minutes, and drain.
Meanwhile, bring the marinara sauce to simmer in a large skillet. Stir in the ricotta and basil leaves.
Spread ½ cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 15-by-10-inch Pyrex baking dish. Layer half of the ziti on top of the sauce. Sprinkle with half the mozzarella cubes and half of the provola. Pour 2 cups of the sauce over the cheese, and spread in an even layer. Top with the rest of the pasta, and spread 2 cups sauce over that layer of pasta. Sprinkle with the remaining cheeses, and dollop with the remaining ½ cup of sauce.
Place the dish in the oven and bake, uncovered, until browned and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before cutting. (If you want to assemble this ahead of time, bake for 15 minutes covered with foil, then, when ready to serve, uncover and bake for an additional 20 minutes.)