Photo Credit: Ray Kachatorian
Baked Lemon Ziti
Serves 8 to 10
Butter for greasing the baking dish
1 pound ziti pasta
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces pancetta, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices, chopped
For the Sauce:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups whole milk, at room temperature
Zest of 2 large lemons
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
For the Topping:
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2/3 cup plain bread crumbs
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Place an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 13-by-9-by-2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes.
In a large non-stick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and cook until brown and crispy, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta and drain on paper towels.
For the sauce: In a 2-quart saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps. Add the lemon zest. Simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheese, salt and pepper.
In a large bowl, combine the sauce, cooked pancetta, pasta, basil, and thyme. Toss until the ingredients are coated. Stir in the lemon juice. Spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish and sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese.
For the topping: In a small bowl, combine the Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.
Sprinkle the topping over the pasta mixture. Drizzle the top with olive oil and bake for 25 minutes until the top is golden brown. Cool for 10 minutes and serve.
Cook’s Note: The topping can be drizzled with the pancetta cooking juices in place of olive oil.