Ziti…I Do, I Do.

I wanted the first recipe I share with you to be of gargantuanely yummy proportion so thought I would share this baked ziti recipe. It’s from one of my favorite Italian celebrity chefs, Mario Batali. You know, the guy with the orange crocs. I adore him because he opened our favorite pizzeria in all the world, Mozza in Los Angeles. If I just look at the menu online I am drooling. Sigh.

Ok, back to the ziti. This short shape pasta has been the desired guest at tons of Sicilian weddings. The definition of the word ziti is controversial. Some say it means “bridegrooms”, others claim the word means “spinsters or bachelors”. The Barilla Pasta company say: Ziti gets its name from the word zita which means a young woman who is about to become a bride, or “little girl.” In parts of Italy, baked ziti has been served at weddings, as part of their tradition. The online dictionary says it is derived from the Italian plural of zito, meaning boy. Well, I guess I get the picture, boys, girls, bachelors, bridesgrooms, spinsters all coming together in one place, the Big Fat Italian wedding. Baked pasta with little ridges to catch all that lovely sauce and cheese, was a cheap way for the bride’s parents to feed those giant Italian families and all the wedding crashers, so they named this 2 inch wonder, ziti. Of course there are as many recipes for baked ziti as there are snappy Italian mother in-laws, but the one I am about to share with you is worth dancing the Tarantella with Uncle Franco, twice.

Why did I decide to make ziti for something other than the merging of a zito and zita? Well, a daughter of a dear friend just gave birth to her first child, a beautiful little ( if you call 8.5 pounds little) bundle of joy. Gasp, it seems that we were just attending her wedding yesterday, well, ok, it was two years ago, but it got me thinking about weddings and of course, ziti. I wanted to bring a nice dinner to the new parents, because having 4 of my own little jrs., I knew they would appreciate a home cooked meal amidst the crying and diaper dashes. So… I whipped them up a pan of Mario’s “Baked Zita al Telefono.” In traditional Italian cooking, any dish made with mozzarella cheese can carry the name “al telefono,” a playful reference to the way the melted cheese strings out and looks like telephone wires. I doubled the recipe so I could feed Dr. Love and the Jrs. later tonight.

…before it gets wrapped up in cheesy wiry goodness

Baked Ziti al Telefono

recipe courtesy of mario batali Serves: 4


  • 1 pound ziti pasta, preferably Italian
  • 2 cups basic tomato sauce (use mario’s recipe http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/basic-tomato-sauce or your own secret sauce or your favorite jarred marinara)
  • 2 cups besciamella sauce (béchamel sauce)
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

Directions for Besciamella Sauce :

Make this first. Warning: if you taste it, you will want to slurp it up, so please try to save some for the ziti!


  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


In a medium saucepan, heat butter until melted. Add flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until light golden brown, about 6 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat milk in separate pan until just about to boil. Add milk to butter mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth and bring to a boil. Cook 30 seconds and remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg and set aside. oh yeah.

Next, get your bread crumbs and your cheeses ready to roll. I used a crispy french roll and my handy dandy grater.

Cook ziti according to package instructions until al dente. Remove, drain and refresh in cold water. Drain again and place in large mixing bowl. Add tomato sauce, besciamella, mozzarella and grated cheese and stir to mix well. This is where it starts to get good.

Divide among 4 gratin dishes, sprinkle with bread crumbs and bake in oven until bubbling and crusty on top, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

There it is, in all its cheesy glory, waiting for our forks like a bride at the altar.

Oh Good Lord in Heaven, even Heidi Klum would break her diet for this one. Creamy layers of flavor that melt in your mouth with just the right amount of honeymoon deliciousness. It’s the beautiful nutmeg scented white sauce that brings this dish to Batali heights. Dr. Love is going to want to marry me all over again when he tastes this one, even if it means having my Italian family at the wedding.

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