Raise your hand if you're a mom. Now, keep your hand raised if you have found a dinner that your ENTIRE family will eat (yes, including you!). Is it an easy dinner? Can it be made ahead of time? Is it reasonably healthy and not likely to raise your cholesterol / BMI / waist size more than 5%? Bet there aren't too many of you with your hands still raised!

Today I came up with a recipe that comes pretty close to meeting all these criteria. It's easy. It can be made ahead of time and refrigerated for a couple of days. It's not too high on the calorie/fat scale. And almost everyone in the family enjoyed it.

I was hoping you wouldn't comment on the 'almost.' (I even shrunk down the font size in the hopes you wouldn't notice it.) I have to admit (please don't think less of me): I am not a real pasta fan. I have nothing against it. It's satisfying, tasty, and usually easy to prepare. But I think of pasta as an indulgence, and if I'm indulging, I'd rather have homemade bread. Or some dark chocolate. Or a piece of chocolate cake. Or maybe a good medium-rare steak. Pasta just isn't worth it to me.

That being said, five out of six is pretty good. Who cares about Mommy anyway? She can always just eat some yogurt or toast. (Seriously.)

This dish is nice because it's just a cut above the standard Baked Ziti. Maybe it's because it requires the use of a blender, or maybe it's the creaminess of the sauce, but I think this recipe is just a bit more elegant. The kids loved it and so did my husband Avi. So in my book, this was a real winner.

Slightly Special Baked Ziti
Use milk for a lighter recipe; cream if you aren't counting calories. To make it ahead of time, prepare the pasta but hold off on baking it. Refrigerate it for up to two days. Just let it come to room temperature for a couple of hours before baking, or increase the baking time by about 20 minutes. 

1 box of ziti or penne
1/2 of a 26-oz. jar of your favorite marinara sauce (I use Frescorti
1 cup ricotta cheese (I use part skim)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
1 cup milk or cream (or less)

Preheat the oven to 350*.

Cook the pasta till it's done but still firm. Make sure not to overcook it.

While the pasta cooks, combine the marinara sauce and all three cheeses in a blender. Add up to a cup of milk or cream, as needed, just enough to get the blender working through the thick mixture. Blend for a minute or two until well mixed and smooth.

Put the pasta into a 9x13 glass or disposable aluminum pan. Pour the sauce over the pasta and mix well.

 Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 minutes more. Serve immediately.

Cooked (naked) pasta

Doesn't this look

The blended sauce

Mixing the sauce in with the pasta

Pasta before baking