Baked Pasta with Ricotta and Ham

42 Comments

A while ago I pulled out all of my Italian cookbooks to locate a specific pasta recipe, which I never found. But perusing these cookbooks gave me an opportunity to bookmark recipes and remind me of some I’d already bookmarked.

One cookbook was Molto Italiano by Mario Batali.

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Mario Batali is one of those chefs who really marketed himself into TV stardom, with many restaurants, cookbooks, plus Eataly that followed, all thanks to this stardom.

I remember his cooking show on PBS that I really enjoyed. There was no band, no audience clapping, just him cooking in a little kitchen.

At the beginning of every show he would pull down a wall map of Italy and give you some history on the provenance of the dish he was about to prepare – something I really appreciated. I didn’t feel “dumbed down” by Batali, in fact, it was more educational than entertainment.

There were always 2-3 odd people sitting off to the side, not saying anything terribly profound, which always made me wonder how I could get this gig because I’d be so much better at it!!! (Not really because I freeze even when someone pulls out an iPhone.)

In spite of Mario Batali being a household name, and easy to spot with his red hair and orange crocs, I do have a lot of respect for his knowledge and passion for Italian cuisine.

While perusing Molto Italiano I spotted a dish that really spoke to me.

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It’s baked pasta with ricotta and ham. Simple, like most all Italian recipes, but it sounded nice and comforting for this time of year. Plus my husband loves ham and I don’t make enough ham recipes.

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I’d recently mentioned that I don’t make casseroles. I don’t want to insult casserole lovers, it’s just that I wasn’t raised on them. And most of them look like regurgitated food, which is my biggest issue with them. I still remember my first experience with a casserole (tuna?) when my neighbor made one for us after my first baby was born. All I will say is that there were potato chips on top. I’m still traumatized by that.

So although casserole-like, this pasta bake is actually somewhat layered. It Is a delightful meal, served with a green salad, or with anything green for that matter. Here is the recipe:

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note: There is a glitch in the recipe that I will resolve below. I had to study the recipe for 30 minutes to figure out what was wrong!

Baked Pasta with Ricotta and Ham
Pasticcio di Maccheroni*

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound Italian cooked ham, preferably parmacotto, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small carrot, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 rib celery, thinly sliced
1 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 cups basic tomato sauce
1 1/2 pounds ziti
1 pound fresh ricotta
8 ounces hard provolone, cut into small dice
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Add the ham cubes and brown for 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add the carrot, onion, and celery and cook until the vegetables are golden brown, about 10 minutes. (I used onion, mushrooms and carrot.)

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Add the wine, bring to a boil, and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover the pan, and cook until the meat is just about falling apart, about 50 minutes. Transfer the meat to a large bowl. Keep the sauce warm.

This is the beginning of my misunderstanding of this recipe. One is to actually separate the ham from the sauce and place the ham in a large bowl. I found this impossible to do.

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Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt.

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Cook the ziti in the boiling water for 1 minute less than the package directions, until still very al denote. While the pasta is cooking, place the ricotta in a small bowl and stir in a ladle of the pasta cooking water to “melt” it.

Drain the pasta and add it to the bowl with the meat. Add the ricotta, provolone, and tomato sauce and stir to combine.

It’s the above paragraph that really makes this recipe confusing. The pasta is supposed to be with the ham that has been removed from the red sauce, and the ricotta, provolone and remaining red sauce are supposed to be mixed together in a separate bowl.

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Grease a round and deep 12-inch pie dish or casserole with olive oil. Place a ladle of the cheese and sauce mixture in the bottom of the dish, followed by a layer of the pasta and meat mixture.

Sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of the Parmigiano over, then repeat with another layer of the cheese and sauce mixture, then pasta and meat, and Parmigiano. Continue until all the ingredients are used up.
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Bake for 25 minutes, until bubbling and heated through. Serve in warmed pasta bowls.
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You could always offer more Parmigiano, but I felt this pasta bake was cheesy enough.
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* Pasticcio, similar to its Greek sister pastitsio, also made with ziti, is commonly served at Easter.

Note: Because I couldn’t separate the ham from the sauce, I left it all together. To compensate, I added extra red sauce to the ricotta and cheese mixture. The whole pasta bake benefitted from having probably about 50% more red sauce in it, I think, than what’s listed in the ingredients.

42 thoughts on “Baked Pasta with Ricotta and Ham

  1. Mimi you should look at “Eat Your Books” an app that gives you a search facility within your cookbook library. After joining up, all you have to do is search your library for a recipe or ingredient and it tell which book, which page, it even lists the ingredients. It actually makes random cookbook reading more enjoyable as you’re not searching at the same time. I love baked pasta dishes, they’re generally fairly simple so you wonder how the recipe could be so badly written. It doesn’t look as if had too great an impact on the result

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    • No, it ended up reallly good. I’d recommend extra red sauce! When Eat Your Books started, I was given a free full trial, with access to all of the books. A small percentage of my cookbooks are on EYB. I thought it could be a wonderful resource,but for now I’ll stick with reading through real books!

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  2. Well I am glad you figured that glitch out in the recipe! It’s unnerving to figure out something that is “missing” from a recipe but you don’t know exactly what it is. I have readers point out omissions quite often to me, which thank goodness I can fix quickly, unlike in a printed book. The casserole looks delicious, and yes I am a casserole eater, but not of the potato-chip crusted tuna variety, lol!

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  3. Hi Mimi, I agree with what Tasty said about chef’s cookbooks. Editors also change recipes without testing them again after the change. To me it would make much more sense in this recipe to brown the ham, take it out, and then in the drippings make the sauce starting with the onion, celery and carrot. This looks very tasty. Like you I don’t do many casseroles.

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  4. I recorded reruns of that show on The Cooking Channel until I started seeing reruns of reruns. I loved to watch that show because it was about the different parts of Italy and the foods best know from the regions. I also have this cookbook and use Mario’s recipe for pasta. I’ll have to pull it out and try to get other recipes to speak to me. This looks great!

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  5. I remember Mario’s first cooking shows all too well and always marvelled at how knowledgeable he is. The Food Network has changed considerably and I miss the earlier shows! I love the way your baked pasta dish turned out, especially the crusty golden edged ziti….my family would be fighting over the corner pieces! Lovely recipe Mimi ๐Ÿ˜Š

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  6. Chef Mimi – you have inspired me for dinner tonight as just this morning I was thinking about what I could do with a kilo of ricotta I have that needs to be used! I’m going to try this but may change out the ham for artichokes to make it vegetarian!

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  7. Well, I happen to have a little cabin in the woods not far from Mario’s house … when I say “not far,” I don’t mean that you could walk the distance … but on the same little peninsula. I’m not sure if it’s his summer house, or if it’s just where he lives now. I’ve never managed to lay eyes on him, however. But since he moved in, the local restaurant foodiness has gone through the roof.

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  8. Well you pictures look divine Mimi! I always, but always take your advice! Anything that I have ever made from, and I have made a few of your recipes are SPOT ON!

    That being said, I used to love Emeril that way too. When he first started, he was nervous, it was all about the cooking and his love of food…
    Then TV stardom hit! Ugh

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    • First, thank you so much for the compliment. My style of cooking is pretty casual, so everything really should work! I’ve never followed recipes to a tee, even when I try! But I always say, it’s home cooking, not rocket science!

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  9. Having lived most of my adult life without a television โ€“ or, rather, without cable television service โ€“ I never saw his show. I have to see if it’s available on YouTube or somewhere else online. The pasta dish looks sublime!

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