Take this classic comfort food dish up a notch in by baking it on the grill. In this recipe we use simple, high quality ingredients to make baked ziti from scratch then add a rustic note by cooking it in a “wood fired oven” (kettle with Slow ‘N Sear). The subtle smoke flavor pairs so well with the cheese and tomatoes – your taste buds will thank you!
1 lb Penne or Ziti
1 lb Ground Chuck
1 lb Italian Sausage (hot or sweet, depending on your preference)
1 c White Wine
6 Cloves of Garlic, Thinly sliced
2-28 oz cans of San Marzano Whole Peeled Tomatoes
8 oz (1 Ball) Fresh Mozzarella, Sliced
8 oz Whole Milk Mozzarella, Shredded
1-2 c Fresh Ricotta, Drained of its liquid
1 c Parmesan Cheese, grated
Salt & Pepper
Get a large pot of salted water boiling and another pot (stock pot or dutch oven) to cook the sauce on the stove.
Pass the whole peeled canned tomatoes through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds and make a smooth sauce. If you don’t have a food mill you can use a food processor or blender on a low setting. You don’t want to beat air into the sauce.
Shred, slice, grate the cheeses. Thinly slice the garlic and take the sausage out of its casing (as needed).
In the stock pot, over high heat, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the preheated pot and add the ground beef and sausage. Season it with a generous pinch of salt. Break into smaller pieces and cook if for about 15-20 minutes. It will go through a stage where it releases all its moisture and then will begin to brown and develop brown bits on the bottom of the pan. That is called the fond and will create a depth in flavor you wouldn’t otherwise achieve.
When the meat begins to brown, add the sliced garlic and cook until its fragrant. When the meat is fully browned and the garlic is fragrant, deglaze the pan with a little white wine, and scrape up all the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Then add the pureed tomatoes and another big pinch of salt. Bring it to a boil then drop it down to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes on low heat to allow the sauce to slightly reduce, boiling off any excess water from the tomatoes and stewing the meat. Season the sauce to taste.
When the sauce is seasoned to your liking, heavily salt the pasta water and cook the pasta. The water should taste like salt water and will season your pasta while cooking it. You are going to cook the pasta twice so to prevent it from being terribly overcooked, cook the pasta only halfway through in the water and then drain. So if the box says cook for 10 minutes, take it off after 5 minutes.
Drain the pasta, then add it back to the pot to give it a base coating of sauce and add the ricotta cheese. Stir to combine.
In a 9″ x 13″ oven-safe baking dish, apply a light layer of sauce to the bottom of the dish. Then add half the pasta. Spread out and layer a thin layer of shredded and sliced mozzarella and parmesan. Then add the second half of the pasta, spread it out, and apply the rest of the cheese and then rip some basil over top.
If you’re going to bake this right away, there is no need to cover it. It’s hot and cooked. Or you can make this a day ahead and bake it whenever you want to eat. If you do this, make sure to cover it in foil to reheat to prevent the top layer of cheese from burning before the rest of the pasta is heated. Remove the foil during the last 5 minutes of reheating to get the top crispy at the end.
Get your Weber kettle with Slow ‘N Sear prepared. Fill up a large chimney with half charcoal and half wood. We like pecan wood for this dish. (We’re going for a heavier smoke than usual here since it will only cook for a short time with the smoke penetrating only the cheese and the top crust.) Get the wood and coals to about 80% white hot. Then add them to the Slow ‘N Sear. Top the coals with more fresh wood, add the Drip ‘N Griddle Pan and the EasySpin cooking grate.
Put the lid on the kettle but leave it cracked over the coals to allow more air flow; keep the top and bottom vents wide open. Preheat the kettle to about 400-450° F using a probe thermometer inside the kettle. When it reaches temperature, add the baking dish to the indirect side and replace the lid, keeping it cracked. Cook for about 10-15 minutes then rotate the baking dish and cook for another 10-15 minutes or until the top of the cheese is melted and browned and some of the pasta along the side of the dish begins to get browned and crispy (that’s the best part!).
Once it’s done, let it cool for about 5 minutes and then you’re ready to serve. Buon appetito!