I'm not sure why we started calling this Baked Ziti, it just kinda happened. It's really just a fake-baked pasta, but it's one of Brian's favorite meals that I make. I can't say I blame him. We've already had it twice this month. The first time I didn't take any pictures of it, so it gave me an excuse to make it again. Not that Brian complained.
This pasta feeds a LOT of people. I've made some changes to it based on our personal preferences and what I can find the store. The original recipe calls for spinach, but blech, can't stand it. (Remember, I'm a picky eater. Baby steps...) It also calls for capocollo, which is an Italian hot ham. I can NEVER find that here so I just buy Peppered Ham and put it some extra cayenne pepper.
The absolute best part of this dish, is that inside it are little cubes of fresh mozzarella. Oh.My.GOD. When they hit the hot pasta and are put under the broiler, they turn into such goodness that it's indescribable. Please shell out the extra money for the fresh mozzarella. The block just won't do. I promise. The cheese makes the dish.
Adapted from Rachael Ray
1 pound cavatappi, corkscrew pasta with lines or, macaroni with line in any short cut
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive, divided
2 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole or 2 percent milk
1/2 pound sliced peppered ham
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a few large handfuls, divided
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, ground or freshly grated, eyeball it
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, a couple pinches
1 pound ball fresh mozzarella -- buy a piece wrapped, not packed in water, then cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup plain or Italian bread crumbs
A generous handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Place a large pot of water over high heat and bring to a boil. Add the pasta, salt water and cook to al dente, with a bite.
While the water is coming up to a boil for the pasta, heat a medium, deep skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon EVOO, 1 turn of the pan, and the butter. When butter melts into the oil, add onions and garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes then dust the onions with flour and continue to cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in milk. Gently bring milk to a bubble, allow the milk to thicken a bit, then stir in the ham and 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano. Season sauce with nutmeg and cayenne and remove from the heat. Taste and add a little salt, if you like.
Combine the cooked pasta and the cubed mozzarella with the sauce, stir to coat completely by turning over and over. Transfer dressed pasta to a baking dish.
To make the breadcrumb topping, combine the breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons of EVOO and the remaining 1/2 cup Parmigiano. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over the top to cover the pasta from edge to edge. Transfer the baking dish under the broiler and broil until golden brown and crispy. Garnish with chopped parsley.