Baked Pasta with Ricotta and Ham

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.

By Published On: February 13th, 201745 Comments

About the Author: Chef Mimi

As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!

45 Comments

  1. Nadia February 13, 2017 at 8:40 AM - Reply

    Mario Batali is one of my favourite US chefs. Went to his LA restaurant often. Excellent!

    • chef mimi February 13, 2017 at 9:13 AM - Reply

      I’ve heard great things about his restaurants!

  2. Gerlinde @ Sunnycovechef February 13, 2017 at 9:08 AM - Reply

    I never really followed Mario Batali or made his recipes but if you put this ricotta pasta in front of me I would eat it all.

  3. The Gourmet Gourmand February 13, 2017 at 10:54 AM - Reply

    I’m also often grossed out by casseroles, but sometimes it just seems right, especially when Mario Batali is involved ;) This looks great!

    • chef mimi February 13, 2017 at 12:26 PM - Reply

      Thank you for saying that! I just probably lost 100 followers!

  4. Tasty Eats Ronit Penso February 13, 2017 at 11:10 AM - Reply

    Indeed quite a confusing recipe, but it looks like you’ve made the best of it. :)

    • chef mimi February 13, 2017 at 11:36 AM - Reply

      Well fortunately it did turn out really well! I wonder if maybe that’s when he was writing many cookbooks, and his editors were just swamped? Cause there’s no way to cook ham in a red sauce until it falls apart, and then remove it from the sauce!

      • Tasty Eats Ronit Penso February 13, 2017 at 12:48 PM

        “Celebs” chefs hardly write recipes – or cook much – themselves. They have teams that do that for them. Such books are made in a “book factory”, so there’s no wonder that such things happen often… :)

      • chef mimi February 13, 2017 at 2:03 PM

        Oh, I had no idea. That makes no sense to me.

      • Tasty Eats Ronit Penso February 13, 2017 at 4:59 PM

        It’s a whole industry by itself. Many people, not just chefs, use “ghost writers”…

      • Tasty Eats Ronit Penso February 13, 2017 at 4:59 PM

        It’s a type of industry by itself. Many people, not just chefs, use “ghost writers”…

      • Tasty Eats Ronit Penso February 13, 2017 at 5:10 PM

        Sorry for the double reply. Feel free to delete! :)

  5. Conor Bofin February 13, 2017 at 1:31 PM - Reply

    Very elegant pots Mimi. Very elegant indeed.

  6. Culinary Flavors February 13, 2017 at 3:04 PM - Reply

    This is truly a family meal and I love all its ingredients. We have a similar dish in Greece called Pastitsio! You made me hungry!

  7. Kelsie February 13, 2017 at 3:13 PM - Reply

    Yum! I love a good baked pasta and this looks fantastic :)

    • chef mimi February 13, 2017 at 3:51 PM - Reply

      There’s something extra fun about baked noodles!

  8. ladyredspecs February 13, 2017 at 4:01 PM - Reply

    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

    • chef mimi February 13, 2017 at 5:55 PM - Reply

      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!

  9. anotherfoodieblogger February 13, 2017 at 6:41 PM - Reply

    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!

    • chef mimi February 13, 2017 at 7:08 PM - Reply

      Oh my god is was seriously slop, topped with crushed potato chips. I never touched it, which I’m sure my husband thought was really funny. There are casseroles, and then there are casseroles!

  10. Lisa @ cheergerm February 13, 2017 at 11:42 PM - Reply

    Looks warm and hearty, I have always wanted to eat at one of his restaurants.

    • chef mimi February 14, 2017 at 7:27 AM - Reply

      I’ve tried to get in to one in NYC twice, but it’s always booked. And I start early! Babbo?

  11. StefanGourmet February 14, 2017 at 4:51 AM - Reply

    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.

    • chef mimi February 14, 2017 at 7:26 AM - Reply

      Exactly. If I’d figured out what was “wrong” with the recipe that’s probably what I would have done. Besides, the ham is already cooked. But I felt the dish actually benefitted from extra red sauce, so if I make it again, I’ll probably make it the same way!

      • StefanGourmet February 15, 2017 at 3:22 PM

        It can also depend on the strength of the tomato sauce used. It makes a lot of difference how ripe the tomatoes were and whether it is very much reduced or quite thin.

      • chef mimi February 15, 2017 at 8:23 PM

        Of course!

  12. Debbie Spivey February 14, 2017 at 6:53 AM - Reply

    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!

    • chef mimi February 14, 2017 at 7:25 AM - Reply

      Thank you. It was a nice and informative show. Now I don’t watch cooking shows, except for masterchef Junior. Watching those little kids cook is so humbling!

  13. Marisa's Italian Kitchen February 14, 2017 at 9:13 AM - Reply

    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

    • chef mimi February 14, 2017 at 1:09 PM - Reply

      Baking pasta really does add something to a regular pasta dish, doesn’t it/!!

  14. Laura @ Feast Wisely February 14, 2017 at 5:05 PM - Reply

    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!

  15. Jeff the Chef February 15, 2017 at 11:05 PM - Reply

    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.

    • chef mimi April 13, 2017 at 8:47 AM - Reply

      Wow! That’s great! I guess the restaurants don’t want bad reviews from Mario!

  16. love in the kitchen February 16, 2017 at 12:38 PM - Reply

    I really loved baked pasta dishes because I think the flavours meld and deepen and there’s something so rustic and comforting about them: like going home.

    • chef mimi February 16, 2017 at 3:04 PM - Reply

      You’re always so poetic! I just like the browned edges!

  17. dishinwithdidi February 17, 2017 at 4:23 AM - Reply

    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

    • chef mimi February 17, 2017 at 7:04 AM - Reply

      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!

  18. Cocoa & Lavender February 17, 2017 at 7:35 AM - Reply

    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!

    • chef mimi April 13, 2017 at 8:46 AM - Reply

      His show was different. It was educational. I hope you can find it.

  19. sippitysup February 9, 2021 at 6:40 PM - Reply

    Yes to baked pasta. Yes to your gig as a Batali side-kick (I’ll keep mu iPhone hidden). GREG

    • chef mimi February 9, 2021 at 6:47 PM - Reply

      Oh crap, I forgot it was his recipe. I just liked the photo!

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