Last July, I lost my mom unexpectedly to cancer. Raised in an old-fashioned, Brooklyn-bred Italian family, food was my mom's love language, and was at the core of my relationship with her. From her family pancake recipe to Italian staples like eggplant parmigiana, and her legendary bolognese sauce, our meals were some of my best memories of her, and now a critical part of my grieving process.
I'd watched her make her Sunday sauce so many times, but never wrote down the directions, or captured a complete ingredient list. I just always assumed she'd be around to make it herself. When she passed away, and I'd taken my last bite of the sauce she'd frozen away for me, I decided to piece together her recipe for the sauce and baked ziti. This is my attempt at connecting the past to the present—and finding a way to welcome the future.
Note: I recommend using Hunt's or Cento brand crushed tomatoes as well as Hunt's sauce, which is what my mom always preferred, but feel free to swap out with any other good quality brand—the quality of tomatoes makes a difference! —Joelle Zarcone
Test Kitchen Notes
Featured in: Grief, With a Side of Baked Ziti. —The Editors
- Prep time 20 minutes
- Cook time 3 hours 30 minutes
- Serves 8-10
- Sunday Sauce
garlic gloves, finely chopped
(6-ounce) cans, tomato paste
(7-ounce) cans, Hunt’s tomato sauce
(28-ounce) can, Hunt’s crushed tomatoes
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
small yellow onions, whole
beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
pork spare ribs
- Baked Ziti
Sunday sauce (see above)
log of full-fat mozzarella, sliced into chunks
- Sunday Sauce
- Add olive oil to a large, sturdy pot and place on medium to low heat. Once oil is hot, add garlic and sauté on low. (Do not let garlic burn!)
- Once garlic is fragrant and slightly browned, add two cans of tomato paste. Stir for 5-10 minutes.
- Add remaining cans of sauce and large can of tomatoes to pot and stir well. Add water to each of the small sauce cans (not the large can) and mix and pour into the mixture. Stir well to combine.
- Add salt and pepper to taste, as well as the Italian seasoning. Stir once more to mix seasonings into the sauce.
- Cover and bring the mixture to boil on a medium flame. Add whole onions and meat. Reduce to low heat and simmer for 2.5-3 hours.
- Baked Ziti
- Heat the oven to 350°F. Pour cooked pasta into a 13x9-inch oven-safe baking dish or similar pan. Pasta should cover the entire length of the baking dish in one consistent layer.
- Add about 5-6 heaping tablespoons of ricotta to pasta, and mix until ricotta is well incorporated.
- Add enough of the Sunday sauce that the entire dish is well-coated, but not soaked. (Note: Even though this is a meat sauce, do not add the meat. Instead, save it for another meal or serve some on the side of the baked ziti, mixed in with extra sauce.) Next, add a handful of mozzarella chunks, and mix well so the dish of pasta is pink with sauce and cheese is well spread out.
- Add more sauce to cover the top of the pasta (you don’t want the pasta to dry out in the oven), and a final layer of mozzarella. You can add as much or as little cheese as you like, but keep in mind that it will melt and spread.
- Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until evenly hot throughout and cheese has melted and crisped up. You can cover the pan loosely with foil to bake, but remember to remove the foil for the last 5-10 minutes. Serve with extra sauce on the side.