What? Baked ziti, that comforting pan full of tomatoey, cheesy pasta, hot from the oven? On a camping trip? Sì signore. We worked out this al fresco version that lets you prepare all the components at home. So at the campsite, you quickly assemble a one-skillet pasta “gratin” with a rich homemade marinara sauce and two layers of a creamy ricotta-burrata topping. While you’re building a fire, the pan simmers on your camp stove and then you move it to “bake” for a bit, right in the glowing embers of the campfire, a step that crisps the edges and adds a hint of smoky flavor. Chow bella chow.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1/4 cup olive oil, plus a little extra to grease the pan at camp
1 onion, diced
1 small carrot, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 (28-oz) cans diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
1 tsp salt, plus more for salting the water
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 lb ziti, fusilli or cavatappi
6 (or more) fresh basil leaves
1 lb ricotta
1 tbsp minced fresh parsley
1 tbsp minced fresh marjoram
1-1/4 cup grated Parmesan
8 oz burratta or fresh mozzarella
- First get the marinara going: Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepan. Add the onion, carrot, and garlic, and sauté over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, oregano, salt, and pepper. Chop the basil leaves and stir into the sauce. Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook for 45 minutes to one hour, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened and the tomatoes have broken down. (If you like a smoother sauce, you can purée it at this point using an immersion blender or a blender). Taste and adjust the seasoning. Let the sauce cool, store it in an airtight container, and refrigerate.
- While the sauce cooks, make the pasta: Fill a pasta pot with water and add a couple pinches salt. When it’s boiling, add the pasta, and cook, stirring occasionally until it is al dente (still a little firm in the center). Drain the pasta, and toss it with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. When the pasta cools to room temperature, transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate.
- Make the ricotta topping: Combine the ricotta, egg, parsley, marjoram and 1/2 cup of the Parmesan in a mixing bowl. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. Pack the remaining 3/4-cup of Parmesan in another container.
- Be sure to pack all the components in a cooler and have some extra olive oil for assembling the ziti later.
- Build a wood fire in a fire pit or campfire circle. You’ll need to start the fire about an hour and a half before dinner so the wood has time to burn and create a deep bed of embers—at least in one section.
- Slice or tear the burrata into small pieces. Grease a 2-inch, ovenproof skillet with a thin film of olive oil. Pour in enough marinara to make a layer about 1/2 inch thick. Combine the remaining sauce and ziti, tossing them back and forth in their containers until the noodles are well coated. Pour half of the sauced ziti into the skillet.
- Snip off a corner of the plastic bag containing the ricotta topping and pipe half of the mixture over the surface of the ziti in tablespoon-sized blobs. (Or use a tablespoon to scoop it out of its container.) Sprinkle half of the burrata pieces on top. Pour the remaining sauced ziti into the skillet and top with dollops of the remaining ricotta topping and the remaining burrata. Sprinkle the 3/4 cup Parmesan over the top.
- Cover the skillet tightly with foil and set it on the camp stove over low heat. Cook without stirring until warmed through, about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the campfire: make a deep, even bed of embers, moving any large pieces of wood that are still burning to one side. The embers should be covered with white ash, and glow red-hot when you blow on them. Remove the foil from the ziti and nestle the uncovered skillet into the embers. Let it cook until the edges begin to crisp up, and the sauce is bubbly, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on the heat of the fire. Remove the pan from the embers and serve.
ITALIAN DINNER MENU
Leftovers can be fried in a skillet in little olive oil to rewarm like hash browns for breakfast. Or even heartier: make a frittata. Just pour some lightly beaten eggs over the refried ziti and let them cook slowly in the skillet until the bottom is golden brown and the eggs are set. Slide onto plate, cover with the skillet, and flip the frittata back into the pan. Cook the second side until it’s lightly browned, then serve hot or cold sliced into wedges or squares.
Bring along a bunch of basil and chop some up to sprinkle on top of the ziti during the last few minutes of cooking.