Baked Ziti…Inspired by Scythe, a novel written by Neal Shusterman

Imagine a world where society has perfected the art of survival. Humanity has learned everything there is to learn, has figured out how to provide for all of Earth’s citizens, and has obtained stagnant immortality. All knowledge exists in the omniscient Thunderhead, and progress is at a standstill. With natural death eliminated from the human experience, a group of chosen souls carry the immense burden of choosing those members of the herd who must die for the sake of civilization–the scythes.

Neal Shusterman’s novel, Scythe, is the first book in his Arc of the Scythe Series. It’s a page-turner of a story, yet it also poses complex philosophical questions regarding mortality. It seems appropriate to pair such heavy themes with a heavy dish such as baked ziti. This meal is rich yet the ingredients are simple, just as the simple facts of life and death yield much more intense food for thought. Citra, one of the main characters, has baked ziti for dinner on the night that a scythe comes to her door and changes her life forever.


Baked Ziti

Yield: 8-10 servings

Prep Time: 15 mins. (dicing onion, slicing mozzarella, & chopping garlic and parsley)

Cook Time: 30-40 mins.

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil

  • 4 cloves of garlic (chopped)

  • 1 28 oz. can of whole tomatoes

  • 1 28 oz. can of tomato purée

  • 1 large yellow onion, diced

  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

  • 16 oz. ricotta cheese

  • Salt & pepper

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

  • 3/4 cup grated or shaved parmesan cheese

  • 1 lb. ziti pasta

  • 1 lb. mozzarella cheese, sliced into discs 1/2″ thick

  • I lb. Italian sausage

  • 2 tbsp. chopped parsley

Directions:

  1. Pour the olive oil into a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic along with a bit of salt and pepper. Cook for about three or four minutes.

  2. Add the Italian sausage. You can either cut it into pieces or slice open the casing and squeeze the meat out bit by bit into the pot. This method results in meatball-like chunks of sausage in the ziti. Cook until the meat browns fully.

  3. Add the tomato purée, whole tomatoes, and red pepper flakes to the pot. Add more salt and pepper if desired. Use a wooden spoon to crush the tomatoes, and stir the sauce well.

  4. Simmer the sauce for about 35-40 minutes.

  5. While the sauce is simmering, prepare the ziti. Boil until the pasta is al dente. Save a cup of the water used to boil the pasta, and set aside.

  6. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

  7. To make the filling, combine the ricotta, heavy cream, and parmesan. Add salt and pepper to taste.

  8. Stir in the pasta water to the sauce.

  9. Toss the pasta in a bowl with two cups of the sauce to coat.

  10. Add a bit of the sauce to coat the bottom of a three-quart baking dish. Next, add a layer of about one third pasta. Add a layer of one third of the remaining sauce, and then layer on half of the ricotta mixture. Top with one third of the sliced mozzarella. Repeat this once more. For the top layer, add the remaining pasta, sauce, then mozzarella. Top with additional parmesan.

  11. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the edges brown.

  12. Enjoy!

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