Chow Time with Anaheim Fire & Rescue: Baked Ziti


In May, Anaheim Fire & Rescue Probationary Firefighter and EMT Joe Fisher will take an all-day test to see if he has what it takes, physically and mentally, to graduate from “probie” status.

Based on his skills in the kitchen alone, Fisher should have no problem clearing that one-year milestone all rookie firefighters face.

“Oh, baby!” Capt. Ryan Herr exclaimed. “Very nice, excellent!”

AF&R Probationary Firefighter and EMT Joe Fisher cooks red sauce with tomatoes, ground beef, ground sausage, onions and various spices.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Herr said this at Station 11 a few evenings ago after digging into one of Fisher’s go-to meals: baked ziti, the classic gooey pasta dish laden with sausage, cheese and other diet-shattering delights.

Probationary firefighters are functioning members of a fire crew, and are closely monitored and mentored as they strive to be the best they can at a multitude of tasks — including cooking.

“The most nerve-wracking time is watching the looks on their faces (when they try the food),” Fisher said.

He shouldn’t worry.

AF&R Probationary Firefighter and EMT  Joe Fisher mixes cooked pasta into a bowl with mozzarella cheese, cottage cheese and an egg.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“It’s always good when he’s cooking,” said Care Ambulance Service EMT Charlie Muller, who works out of Station 11, located in the westernmost reaches of Anaheim.

Fisher, 31, didn’t even take up cooking until 2½ year ago, when he was hired by the City of San Diego’s Fire-Rescue Department and was, as they say, thrown into the fire on kitchen duty.

Now, much to the delight of his wife, Karen, a junior high school teacher, Fisher does most of the cooking at home for her and their two children, a 4-year-old girl and 2-year-old boy.

AF&R Probationary Firefighter and EMT Joe Fisher adds a layer of red sauce to the pasta.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

He’s a big fan of “The Pioneer Woman,” the blogger, chef and television personality Ree Drummond, who lives on a working ranch in Oklahoma.

Fisher used her baked ziti recipe.

“It’s a real simple one,” he said. “I use a lot of her recipes because they’re great for firehouses. They’re simple, yet packed with flavor.”

Fisher relishes chow time at the firehouse.

AF&R Probationary Firefighter and EMT Joe Fisher sprinkles on another layer of mozzarella cheese on top of the red sauce and pasta before placing it in the oven.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“It’s a great opportunity, especially for someone new like me, to feel like you’re really part of the crew,” he said. “And if the meal turns out well, it’s an even better experience.”

Fisher’s firehouse cooking mantra:

Make it cheap, make it good, and make lots of it.

Fisher bought the ingredients for his baked ziti from a Stater Brothers near his home and started making the sauce at around 1 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 23.

Shortly after 4 p.m., he boiled the pasta. He used mostaccioli, a cylindrical-shaped pasta very similar to ziti, and cut broccoli for steaming and French bread for dipping in balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Another layer of mozzarella cheese is added on top of the red sauce and pasta.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“If you don’t like meat or you’re not a fan of dairy, this is not the recipe for you,” said Fisher, who grew up in Corona and served in the Marines for four years before pursuing a career in the fire service.

He was inspired to join the military after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks rattled him when he was 15. Another inspiration was his step-father, who served as a bomb technician in the Marine Corps. Fisher, based at Camp Pendleton, worked a desk job planning missions.

“When I first made this,” Fisher said of his baked ziti, “I was working with two captains. One of them was a vegetarian and the other one didn’t eat cheese. I felt so bad, but the dish turned out really well.”

At around 5:10 p.m., Fished picked up the intercom phone.

Extra virgin olive oil is added to aged balsamic vinegar for dipping the bread.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

“Chow’s on!” he announced.

Fisher’s regular crew was off that day, much to the delight of firefighters from other stations working overtime, including newly promoted Capt. Michel Bowidowicz.

“We’ll keep him around for a couple of months,” Bowidowicz joked.

Baked ziti: golden brown, gooey, decadent and ready to eat.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

Baked Ziti

(recipe from


15 Minutes




45 Minutes




2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 whole large onion, diced

1 pound Italian sausage

1 pound ground beef

1 can (28 oz. size) whole tomatoes, with juice

2 cans (14.5 ounce) tomato sauce or marinara sauce

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper, to taste

16 ounces (weight) ziti or mostaciolli, cooked until not quite al dente (cooked to be firm to the bite)

1 tub (15 oz. size) whole milk ricotta cheese

1-1/2 pound mozzarella cheese, grated

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 whole egg

Fresh minced parsley

Baked Ziti is dished out to a plate of bread and steamed broccoli as dinner is served.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC


Heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté for several minutes, or until starting to soften. Add Italian sausage and ground beef and cook until browned. Drain off fat, leaving a bit behind for flavor and moisture.

Add tomatoes, tomato juice, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes. Stir and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. After that time, remove 3 to 4 cups of the sauce to a different bowl to cool down.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a separate bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, 2 cups of the grated mozzarella, Parmesan, egg, and salt and pepper. Stir together just a couple of times (do not mix completely).

Drain the pasta and rinse under cool water to stop the cooking and cool it down. Pour it into the bowl with the cheese mixture and toss to slightly combine (there should still be large lumps.) Add the cooled meat sauce and toss to combine.

Add half the coated pasta to a large casserole dish or lasagna dish. Spoon half of the remaining sauce over the top, then top with half the remaining mozzarella cheese. Repeat with another layer of the coated pasta, the sauce, and the mozzarella.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbling. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Sprinkle chopped parsley over the pasta before serving.

EMT Charlie Muller scoops up a plate of baked ziti. It’s traditional at Anaheim firehouses to let the EMTs who operate the ambulances eat first.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC

The fire crew at Anaheim Fire & Rescue Station 11, in addition to Elsa Covarrubias, AF&R’s community engagement manager, gather around the table to eat the baked ziti. The photographer had seconds.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge OC