Baked Ziti

From a Cook's Illustrated cookbook my sister has.  The cookbook has "plain" and "with sausage" variations, this is the "with sausage".

NOTE: be sure to simmer the tomatoes gently in step 2 or the sauce will become too thick.  Don't overcook the ziti on the stovetop, cook until softened but not al-dente - it will finish in the oven.  Actually, I found it best to read the pasta cooking directions and cook it in step 3 slightly less than the package directions.  This is probably about HALF the 15 to 18 minutes specified in the recipe (I like Cook's Illustrated but surprisingly often I find recipes or parts of their recipes that don't work). 


1 28oz can whole peeled tomatoes
1 lb Italian sausage

6 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through a garlic press (about 2 tablespoons)
teaspoon red pepper flakes
3 cups water
12 oz (about 3 cups) ziti
cup heavy cream
1 oz parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
cup chopped fresh basil leaves
Ground black pepper
4 ozs mozzarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 475 degrees. Pulse the tomatoes with their juice in a food processor until coarsely ground and no large pieces remain, about 12 pulses (approx yield 3-1/3 cups).

2. Lightly brown Italian sausage in skillet over medium-high heat until no longer pink, breaking apart the meat, 3 to 4 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the processed tomatoes and teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes no longer taste raw, about 10 minutes.

3. Stir in the water, then add the pasta. Cover, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook, stirring often and adjusting the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer, until the pasta is tender, 15 to 18 minutes.

4. Stir in the cream, Parmesan cheese, and basil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the top. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the cheese has melted and browned, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve.