Ziti al Forno

(Baked Ziti)

(8 to 12 servings)

Carmela's baked ziti is a hit with Father Phil, who enjoys it with Carmela and a few too many glasses of Chianti in front of the fire (though the red pepper flakes that Father Phil likes in the pasta are missing from this recipe). The recipe includes Sunday Gravy, a staple that was a part of many a Sunday meal in the Italian home. In a traumatic flashback, Tony recalls his mother, Livia, frying meat for her gravy -- "red lead" as Tony calls it.

-- From "The Sopranos Family Cookbook" by "Artie Bucco," Michele Scicolone and Allen Rucker (Warner Books, 2002).

1 pound ziti

Salt to taste

4 to 5 cups Sunday Gravy (recipe follows) With Meatballs

1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1 cup ricotta

8 ounces mozzarella, cut into small dice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large pot, bring at least 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add the ziti and salt to taste and cook, stirring frequently, until the ziti is al dente (tender yet firm to the bite). Drain the ziti, transfer to a large bowl and toss with about 3 cups of the Sunday Gravy and half of the Pecorino. Gently stir in the meatballs from the Sunday Gravy. Spoon half of the ziti mixture into a 31/2-quart baking dish (a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking dish works well). Spread the ricotta, mozzarella and half of the remaining Pecorino evenly over the top. Pour 1 cup of the remaining Sunday Gravy sauce evenly over the top. Top with the remaining ziti mixture. If the mixture looks dry, pour another cup of the Sunday Gravy over the top. Sprinkle the remaining Pecorino on top. Cover the dish with foil. (The ziti can be refrigerated for up to 12 hours at this point. Remove the dish from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before baking.)

Bake the ziti for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake 15 to 30 minutes longer, until the center is hot and the sauce is bubbling around the edges. Cover loosely with foil and let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

Per serving (based on 8): 729 calories, 45 gm protein, 53 gm carbohydrates, 37 gm fat, 143 mg cholesterol, 16 gm saturated fat, 1,043 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Sunday Gravy With Meatballs

(Makes about 8 cups)

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound meaty pork neck bones or spareribs

1 pound veal stew meat or 2 veal shoulder chops

1 pound Italian plain or fennel pork sausages

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 cup tomato paste

Three 28- to 35-ounce cans Italian peeled tomatoes

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

6 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces

For the meatballs:

1 pound ground beef, or a combination of beef and pork

1/2 cup plain dried bread crumbs

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon very finely minced garlic

1/2 cup (about 2 ounces) freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for the pan

For the sauce: In a large deep pot over medium heat, heat the oil. Pat the pork dry and add it to the pot. Cook, turning occasionally, until nicely browned on all sides, about 15 minutes. Transfer the pork to a platter.

Brown the veal in the same way and transfer it to the platter.

Place the sausages in the pot and brown on all sides. Transfer them to the platter.

Drain almost all of the fat from the pot. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the garlic and cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Remove and discard. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Add the tomatoes and their juices to the pot and season with salt and pepper to taste. (Before adding them to the pot: For a smoother sauce, use a food mill to puree the tomatoes and their juices. For a chunkier sauce, use a knife or blender to chop the tomatoes.)

Return the pork, veal and sausages to the pot. Add the basil, increase the heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a simmer. Cover the pot partially and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 hours. If the sauce becomes too thick, add a little water.

While the sauce is cooking, make the meatballs.

For the meatballs: In a large bowl combine the ground beef, bread crumbs, eggs, garlic, cheese, parsley and salt and pepper to taste and, using your hands, mix together thoroughly. Rinse your hands with cold water and lightly shape the mixture into tiny balls the size of small grapes. You should have about 12 dozen mini-meatballs. (If you wish to make meatballs to serve over pasta rather than include in Baked Ziti, shape the mixture into 2-inch balls.)

In a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the meatballs and cook, turning as necessary, until browned on all sides but not cooked through. (Do not crowd the skillet; may have to cook in batches.) It may be necessary to add additional oil to keep the meatballs from sticking. Transfer the meatballs to a plate; they will finish cooking later.

After the sauce has simmered for 2 hours, add the meatballs to the sauce and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, the meatballs are cooked through and the larger meats are tender, about 30 minutes.

To use in Baked Ziti, use a slotted spoon to remove the meats from the sauce. Use the meatballs for the Baked Ziti. Reserve the pork, veal and sausage for a second course or for another meal or dice and add to the Sunday Gravy that remains and reserve both for another meal.

Per serving (based on 8): 673 calories, 44 gm protein, 18 gm carbohydrates, 47 gm fat, 205 mg cholesterol, 16 gm saturated fat, 1,231 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Saffron Risotto Cakes

(Makes about 18 cakes)

The Italian family weeknight meal often makes the most of what is at hand, and cakes or fritters are a delicious way to deal with leftover risotto. In this recipe, the Scotto family starts from scratch, to make them a worthy accompaniment to baked chicken or a roast.

-- From "Italian Comfort Food" by Marion, Rosanna, Anthony Jr. and Elaina Scotto (Regan Books, 2002).

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for frying

1 shallot, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 cups uncooked Arborio rice

2 cups white wine

4 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup sweet peas

3/4 cup (about 3 ounces) mozzarella cheese

1 cup (about 4 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese

4 tablespoons butter

2 pinches saffron threads

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

About 1/4 cup flour

In a heavy stockpot over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the shallot and garlic and cook until softened and golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the rice and wine, increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring constantly, until the wine has reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Slowly add the stock and cook, stirring constantly to make sure rice does not stick to the pan, until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, about 15 minutes.

When the rice is almost but not quite cooked through, add the peas, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses, butter, saffron and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring, until the rice becomes creamy, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the rice to a nonstick baking sheet and, using the bottom of a flat spatula, spread the rice out to a depth of about 1/2 inch. Set aside to cool for 1 hour.

Using a 3-inch cookie cutter lightly dusted with flour, cut out round risotto shapes. The risotto that's left on the sheet when you're done cutting out the rounds can be gathered together to make additional risotto cakes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a saute pan (preferably nonstick) over medium heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add some of the risotto cakes, being careful not to crowd the pan, and cook, adding more oil if necessary, until they are golden brown, about 4 minutes per side. (You will need to cook the cakes in batches.) Repeat with the remaining cakes. Return the cakes to the baking sheet and bake until warmed through, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 2 cakes): 924 calories, 30 gm protein, 105 gm carbohydrates, 32 gm fat, 70 mg cholesterol, 16 gm saturated fat, 966 mg sodium, 3 gm dietary fiber

Ricotta Pie

(8 servings)

Beware of Carmela bearing her ricotta pie. She approaches her neighbor, Jean Cusamano, with the hope that Jean's twin sister, Joan, will write a letter of recommendation to Georgetown University for Meadow Soprano. When Joan balks, Carmela shows up at her office with the pie and a look that means business. The letter is written.

Carmela also uses the pie to comfort. She brings some to Livia at the retirement home. "I can't eat that, it's got cholesterol," snarls Livia. "I made it with low-fat cheese," says Carmela, patiently.

-- From "The Sopranos Family Cookbook" by "Artie Bucco," Michele Scicolone and Allen Rucker (Warner Books, 2002).

For the pie:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup fine graham cracker crumbs (about 3 crackers)

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

15-ounce container ricotta cheese (preferably whole milk)

2 large eggs

1/2 cup heavy (whipping) cream

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the topping:

20-ounce can crushed pineapple in syrup

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

For the pie: Spread the butter over the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan or pie pan. Add the crumbs, turning the pan to coat the bottom and sides. Set aside.

In a large bowl, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Add the ricotta, eggs, cream, lemon zest and vanilla and beat until smooth. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes, or until the pie is set around the edges but still slightly soft in the center. Transfer to a wire rack to cool to room temperature.

For the topping, drain the pineapple well, reserving 1/2 cup of the syrup. Set aside.

In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar and cornstarch. Stir in the reserved 1/2 cup pineapple syrup and the lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, just until thickened, about 1 minute. Add the reserved drained pineapple and stir to combine. Remove from the heat; set aside to cool slightly.

To serve, spread the pineapple mixture over the pie. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

Per serving: 310 calories, 8 gm protein, 35 gm carbohydrates, 16 gm fat, 105 mg cholesterol, 9 gm saturated fat, 93 mg sodium, 1 gm dietary fiber