Come Together… Right Now… Over Ziti

I first met Dianne and Carrie when our daughters were in first grade.  I was new to Marietta and adjusting to life in the suburbs. Mike and I made the schlepp from the northeast after our daughter was born to take advantage of the safe neighborhoods, great schools and summer camps without six-month waiting lists.

The biggest draw to our neighborhood was the schools. G loved her new elementary school, and so did Mike and I. The school was successful because of parents like Dianne and Carrie. Both volunteered their time and showed up for school plays and Thanksgiving lunches, often with their husbands in tow, actively supporting their daughters and showing an interest in their daily lives. We eventually ran into each other enough to make pleasant conversation, and I learned they were both wicked funny and truly wanted the most for their daughters.

Our daughters were never all three in the same class at the same time until fifth grade, but they managed to get to know each other during PE (“nobody says gym any more, Mom”), lunch and other activities. They’d take turns sleeping over and going to each other’s houses, spent birthdays and summer vacations together. I started referring to the trio as “the Lovlies.”

The Lovlies entered middle school two years ago. Ah, middle school… I truly believe this is where the rubber meets the road as a parent. I’ve seen people I thought were amazing parents in elementary school fall apart when their kids entered middle school. It’s not an easy time for anyone and is a real test of your parenting skills.

The Lovlies were no exception. Their lives became busier and more demanding. They didn’t have as many classes together and their interests pulled them in different directions. I remember this happening to me when I entered middle school. I was too busy with swimming or school or had just developed different interests.  It was very surprising to me then, and a little sad.

The beautiful thing is, the Lovlies have handled this situation with astonishing maturity and grace. I’ve seen other girls their age in similar circumstances be cruel to each other instead of accepting that sometimes people grow apart. Who knows. I just know our girls have remained kind to each other during this transition. Dianne and Carrie are a big reason for that. They’re great mothers.

So, our girls don’t hang out together as much as they used to, but I still like these women, these Mothers of the Lovlies. What’s a gal to do? Make them dinner, of course! I had Dianne and Carrie over a little while ago for some ziti and crème brulee. We shared what’s new, where our daughters are at, and how we still want the most for them. Our girls are getting older and soon will be leaving the house, and we talked about what that means to us as women. Sigh… thank goodness for ziti, because there’s nothing like a good meal to bring old friends together. Thanks, Dianne and Carrie, for sharing a meal and your girls with my family!

Baked Ziti with Meatballs

This recipe is modified from the Sopranos Cookbook. My sister gave me the cookbook for Christmas. I thought it was going to be filled with a bunch of schlocky recipes, but they’re actually quite good! I’ve made several recipes from it. This one I lightened up a bit with turkey burger, whole wheat pasta and part-skim cheeses

For the Meatballs:

1 lb turkey burger

1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon finely minced garlic

1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese or 1/2 cup parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon salt


2 tablespoons olive oil


Combine all the ingredients except the oil in a large bowl.

Mix together thoroughly.

Rinse your hands with cool water and lightly shape the mixture into 2-inch balls.

Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet.

Add the meatballs and brown them well on all sides. (They will finish cooking in the ziti.)

Transfer the meatballs to a plate.

For the Ziti:

1 lb ziti, cooked (I used whole wheat)


2 jars pasta sauce (I know, I know I should make my own. But there are so many good ones out there! I use the marinara sauce from Trader Joe’s. So good, and no HFCS.)

Meatballs from above

1 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese (salty goodness!)

1 cup ricotta cheese (I used part-skim)

8 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into small pieces (part-skim here, too)

Grated pecorino romano cheese, to sprinkle on top. I like to load it up with at least a cup


Put all the ziti in a large bowl.

Toss ziti with 3 cups of the sauce (or gravy, as they say in New Jersey), the meatballs and half of the grated cheese (add more sauce if you like).

Spoon half of the ziti into a casserole dish.

Spread the ricotta over the top of the ziti.

Sprinkle with the mozzarella and the rest of the grated cheese.

Pour on 1 cup of sauce.

Top with remaining ziti and rest of sauce (it will be almost overflowing).

Sprinkle with more grated cheese.

Bake covered with foil for 45 minutes and then uncovered for 15 minutes.

Let stand 15 minutes

Crème Brulee

This recipe is from the William-Sonoma Dessert cookbook. It’s only four ingredients, but so flavorful and delicious!


3 cups heavy cream

½ a vanilla bean, split lengthwise

8 large egg yolks, at room temperature

¼ cup plus 1/3 cup sugar


Preheat the oven to 300°F. Have ready six ¾ cup ramekins and a shallow roasting pan.

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the cream and vanilla bean.

Bring to a gentle boil, remove form the heat, cover and set aside for 15-30 minutes to blend the flavors.

Remove the vanilla bean from the cream and, using the tip of a knife, scrape the seeds into the cream. Discard the bean.

Return the cream to medium heat and bring almost to a boil. Remove from the heat.

In a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the 1/3 cup sugar just until blended.

Slowly whisk in the hot cream. Return the mixture to the saucepan over medium-low heat.

Cook, stirring constantly, until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about three minutes. Do not let it boil.

Pour the custard through a strainer into the ramekins, dividing it evenly among them.

Arrange the ramekins in the roasting pan. Pour very hot tap water into the pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan with aluminum foil.

Bake until the custards are set but the centers still jiggle slightly when the ramekins are gently shaken, about 40 minutes.

Remove from the oven but leave in the water bath until cool enough to handle, then lift out the ramekins. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled, up to overnight.

Sift the remaining ½ cup sugar over the tops of the chilled custards to form a thin, even layer.

Light up a kitchen torch and, keeping it 2-3 inches away from the custard, brown the sugar. (My husband got me my kitchen torch for our anniversary. Nothing screams eternal love like a new kitchen torch!)

If you don’t have a kitchen torch, place the ramekins on a baking sheet. Slip the baking sheet under a preheated broiler 2-3 inches from the heat source and broil until the sugar melts and caramelizes, about 1-2 minutes. Serve immediately.

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