Baked ziti with eggplant (Photo/Faith Kramer)
Baked ziti with eggplant (Photo/Faith Kramer)

I have a confession: My real comfort food is baked ziti, not kugel

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

In the New York neighborhood where I grew up, even if you weren’t Italian, you cooked like you were. Thus, the comfort food of my youth wasn’t kugel or blintzes. It was eggplant parmesan, lasagna and, most of all, baked ziti.

Ziti, a tube-shaped short pasta, would be baked with tomato sauce, rich cheeses and other ingredients and brought to potlucks, celebrations and even shivas.

My California version is packed with vegetables, has a secret eggplant layer and is assembled much like a lasagna.

Baked Ziti with Eggplant Layer

Serves 8 to 10

  • Baked eggplant (below)
  • Vegetable sauce, divided (below)
  • 1 lb. uncooked ziti or penne
  • 15 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 Tbs. minced fresh basil
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • Oil for pan
  • 1 lb. very thinly sliced mozzarella
  • 3 Tbs. chopped fresh basil for garnish

Have Baked Eggplant and Vegetable Sauce (recipes below) warm or at room temperature.

Cook ziti according to package directions until al dente (chewy in center). Drain.

In very large bowl, mix ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, basil, salt and pepper. Stir in 4 cups of vegetable sauce and ziti. (Add sauce, if needed. Pasta should be well-coated but not dripping.)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease deep 9-by-13-inch baking pan or large casserole dish (at least 2½ inches deep). Spread a third of remaining sauce on bottom. Top with half of ziti, pressing down to compact. Cover top with eggplant. Spread with another third of sauce. Top with half of mozzarella. Press in remaining ziti. Top with remaining sauce and cheese. Tent pan with aluminum foil. Bake 30 minutes until hot and bubbling. Remove foil. Bake 10 to 20 minutes more until cheese begins to brown. Let rest 20 minutes. Garnish and serve.

Can be refrigerated or frozen. If so, defrost baked and ungarnished casserole, cover in foil and heat in 350-degree oven until hot and bubbly. Remove foil and bake 10 minutes.

Baked Eggplant

  • ½ cup oil plus extra for pan
  • 1 to 1½ lb. eggplant
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground dried oregano
  • ¼ tsp. crumbled dried rosemary
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ⅛ tsp. cayenne

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Grease rimmed baking tray. Cut unpeeled eggplant into ⅜-inch rounds.

Combine salt and spices in bowl. Dip each slice in oil. Coat with mixture, turning. Place on pan. Drizzle remaining oil over slices. Bake 15 minutes. Use spatula to flip. Bake 10 to 15 minutes more until tender and browned.

Vegetable Sauce

  • 2 Tbs. oil
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 Tbs. minced garlic
  • ¼ tsp. ground oregano
  • ¼ tsp. crumbled dried rosemary
  • ¼ tsp. cayenne or to taste
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. salt, or as needed
  • 2½ cups chopped red bell pepper (½-inch pieces)
  • 2½ cups chopped cremini or button mushrooms (½-inch pieces)
  • 2 jars (24 oz. each) prepared pasta sauce (see note)
  • ¼ cup red wine
  • 4 cups chopped spinach or chard
  • 2 Tbs. minced fresh basil

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Sauté onion until beginning to color. Add garlic. Sauté until golden. Stir in spices and salt. Add bell pepper. Sauté until beginning to soften. Add mushrooms. Sauté until beginning to soften. Mix in sauce and wine. Bring to a simmer, stirring often. Mix in spinach and basil. Return to a simmer, lowering heat if necessary. Simmer uncovered until vegetables are cooked and sauce is slightly thickened. Taste and add salt and or cayenne, if desired.

Note: Pasta sauce should be a bit spicer than your normal level. Use arrabbiata (spicy) or plain.

Faith Kramer
Faith Kramer

Faith Kramer is a Bay Area food writer and the author of “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen.” Her website is Contact her at [email protected].