Baked Ziti with Mushrooms and Bechamel

Sunday dinner is a family tradition that my grandparents brought with them from Italy. Sunday dinners at my grandparent’s home with our large family are legendary. Large tomatoes sauce vats simmer on the stove brimming with meatballs, sausage, chicken, and pork ribs. Homemade pasta drys on racks spread across the enamel white kitchen table surrounded by red vinyl chairs. Lasagna bubbles in the oven filled with a delectable sauce, cheese, and noodles.

The aroma of freshly baked bread escaping from under a clean dishcloth beckons the children to sneak into the kitchen for a peek.

Finally, we all sit around the long wooden dining room table and begin the luscious feast prepared by my grandparents for three generations. Although those special times reside in the distant past, memories live in perpetuity.

My mother continued the family Sunday dinners until my children were born and she passed the tradition to me. Now Sundays find my grandchildren aniously waiting for three generations to gather around my large dinning room table creating enduring remeberances for the next family branch.

Baked Ziti with Mushrooms and Bechamel

1 (28-oz can) whole peeled tomatoes, Cento San Marzano


1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil


1 pound portobello mushrooms


1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds


1 (15-oz. can) tomato sauce


Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper


1 pound ziti or rigatoni. Prince Pasta


2 tablespoons unsalted butter, Cabot butter


2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, King Arthur


2 1/2 cups whole milk


1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


1/3 cup plus 1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 5 ounces), divided, plus more for sprinkling


1 cup packed fresh basil leaves, chopped, plus more whole leaves for serving


1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and divided

Directions


Step 1 Transfer whole peeled tomatoes (with their juices) to a large bowl and squeeze with your hands or wooden spoon to break up; set aside. Heat oil in a pot over medium-high. Add mushrooms and cook until browned in places and juice evaporates for about 8 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Then add fennel seeds.


Step 2 Add reserved crushed tomatoes to the pot and a can of tomato sauce, and 1/2 cup water. Season generously with salt and pepper; let simmer until flavors meld, skimming fat as needed, about 20 minutes.


Step 3 Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 425°F. Cook pasta in a pot of salted boiling water about 5 minutes less than package instructions to al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta water, then drain and rinse pasta under cool water to stop cooking.


Step 4 In a medium saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until combined and lightly toasted, 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in milk. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring, until the consistency is like slightly thickened cream, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Season with salt, nutmeg, and 1/3 cup Parmigiano. Press plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent skin from forming.


Step 5 In a large bowl, toss pasta with 3 cups tomato sauce, 1/2 cup Parmigiano, 1/2 cup reserved pasta water (or up to 1 cup, if the sauce is very thick), and basil. Season with salt and pepper.


Step 6 Spread half of the bechamel in the bottom of a 3-to-3 1/2-quart baking dish. Top with half of the pasta mixture, 1 cup tomato sauce, half of the mozzarella, and 1/2 cup Parmigiano. Layer with remaining pasta and 1 cup tomato sauce.


Step 7 Spoon the last of the bechamel evenly on top, followed by remaining mozzarella and 1/2 cup Parmigiano; top with a few spoons of tomato sauce. Sprinkle with more Parmigiano.


Step 8 Bake, uncovered until browned in places and bubbly, about 30 minutes. Let cool 20 minutes, top with more basil leaves, and serve.

Enjoy!

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