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Mary's Baked Ziti is Copyright © 1998 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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Mary's Baked Ziti is good, honest, satisfying food that tastes as great on the first forkful as it does the last.

It's easy to make, doesn't cost much, freezes well, and tastes even better the next day. What more can we ask for?

friends before food
mary's baked ziti

Marriage creates a collaborative poem comprised of mundane phrases, its recitation repeated day by day, line by line, like the oral preservation, by farmer and philosopher, of The Illiad. "Did you put the milk away?" "I turned on the outside lights." "See you at one-fifteen."

There's a warm, comfortable sexiness, a pajama knowingness, to marriage. The trust between friends, the knowledge that this works here, and that there produces this, and always will. No sidewalk sashay will ever be worth a wife's insight into the other's facial expressions; a husband's familiarity with moods.

At some point early in any relationship, the man and woman, sprawled naked on their backs in bed, fingers feeling the texture of their pubic hair, reminisce about childhood food.

The dishes are recreated days later at the stove, looking surprised in the pot at their resummoning, at their resurrectionists' present height and grown-up bumps.

At some point later, variations suitable to the pressures of now are thought up.

One of the concepts only humans would produce, rafting towards the twinkling outer space spread of the twenty-first century, is comfort foods.

Comfort foods are meant to be satisfying. Satisfying to prepare, to lift drippingly onto plates, to eat in bed, to lodge warmly in the stomach.

Some time ago, Mary came up with what I feel is one of the best of all comfort foods. It's easy to prepare, easy to cook; remarkably easy to eat lots and lots of.

To make Mary's Baked Ziti you need:

1 package of Ziti pasta
2 large jars of your favorite spaghetti sauce
1 cup of imported swiss cheese
1 cup of mozzarella cheese

And that's it.

Boil the ziti "according to package directions", flavoring the water with salt and olive oil before the ziti are rattled in.

Once the ziti are cooked to your preference, tilt the heavy starchy water, steam and soft ziti into a colander, then put the brimming colander under the cold water tap, rinsing off any heat.

Empty the two jars of spaghetti sauce into a bowl, and with a long-handled wooden spoon digging into the tilted colander held over the bowl encourage enough of the ziti to fall into the red, red sauce until you have a mix that's more sauce than ziti (you want the mix to be moist, because in the baking process all that red moistness is going to seep into the ziti).

Once your mix is right, set two au gratin pans on the counter, and tilting the bowl, let the red and yellow contents slide out and down until the two au gratin pans are filled.

Sprinkle the swiss and mozzarella cheese across the top of each au gratin pan. If you want to, you can dust the top of each with grated parmesan cheese.

Put in a 350 degree oven for fifteen minutes, or until the cheese topping has molded atop the ziti and the edges have turned that shade of broiled brown so popular in food pornography.

Serve with the simplest of all salads. In a bowl combine equal parts of hand-ripped iceberg lettuce and romaine. Cut a red onion in half, peel it, cut a half in half again, then slice off twinned 1/4 inch sheets. Separate the sheets and dump into a bowl. Discombobulate, and sprinkle generously with apple vinegar. Let set fifteen minutes. Add to the greens. Toss. Sprinkle your salad with grated parmesean cheese and black pepper. Toss again. Place in bowls and drizzle with your favorite dressing.

Eat the whole thing in bed, kissing your spouse on the lips before you start. Afterwards, you be the one to take the dishes out to the kitchen. Your spouse deserves that little special waiter touch. Return to the darkness, the blue TV light illuminating the floating rectangle of the bed, illuminating the one waiting for you with blankets and poems.