A month ago I was at my father-in-law’s 94th birthday celebration. As an only child I especially appreciate these yearly gatherings when all the siblings—three brothers, four sisters, and seven spouses in toe—gather to honor the father.
I’ve got no sisters of my own, so my sister-in-laws have adopted me, and I love when we all get together. We spend most of our time in the kitchen, some of us cooking or baking, others sitting around the table chatting and playing rounds of gin rummy.

My sister-in-law, Kathy, and I were among the cooks and bakers that weekend but at one point, she and I were at the table sharing what we served up on the nights we didn’t feel like cooking.

As a cook who prefers to cook without a book as much as possible, I liked one of her ideas a lot. That I can still rattle it off after one conversation a month ago reinforces the ease of her recipe: a pound of cooked ziti, a jar each of marinara and Alfredo sauce, a pound of mozzarella, and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Bake until bubbly and serve.

I wanted to figure out a way to make this recipe just as easy to internalize but just a little more from scratch. The following recipe is my take.

One of the other big discussions at our sibling reunion is what to serve when all seventy-something of us get together this July. I’m thinking this could be our dish. It’s kid-friendly, but the adults will like it too. It’s vegetarian, and very easy to make for a crowd. Anderson clan alert! If Crowd-Pleasing Weeknight Baked Ziti doesn’t appeal, speak now!

Crowd Pleasing Weeknight Baked Ziti
Serves 8

1 pound ziti
1/2 cup prepared pesto
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups each vegetable broth, evaporated milk, and canned crushed tomatoes
12 ounces mozzarella cheese, 8 ounces cubed and 4 ounces grated
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Bring a generous 2 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to boil in a large soup kettle. Add ziti and, using back-of-the-box times as a guide, cook partially covered and stirring frequently at first to prevent sticking, until just tender. Drain pasta and return it to the pot.
Meanwhile, heat pesto over medium-high heat in a small Dutch oven until it starts to sizzle. Whisk in flour to make a smooth paste. Whisk in broth and milk and cook until mixture starts to simmer and thicken up. Whisk in tomatoes and continue to cook to heat through. Pour sauce over pasta, along with cubed mozzarella; toss to coat. Pour into a greased 13- by 9-inch baking dish and sprinkle with the grated mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses. Bake until bubbly and golden about 20 minutes. (If you want a more golden brown top, broil for a couple of minutes.)