When I lived in New Jersey, baked ziti was everywhere. Graduation? We’ll make a few pans of ziti! Someone has a new baby? “You know, we should really take them a pan of ziti.” Worried the fried chicken isn’t enough? “We could always make a few pans of ziti to go along with it.” I think it’s the Italian-American influence of New Jersey. It’s also popular, in my opinion, because it comes together fairly quickly, it reheats well, and it’s sturdy and filling. This recipe is a fancier version than most. It’s practically a lasagna with ziti noodles. It is not at all low calorie or low fat, so keep your portions small! It makes at least 10 servings in my experience. Great also for company, as well as graduation, taking to someone who just had a baby, and rounding out those fried chicken dinners. Hee hee.
Note about the meats: This could be made meatless, or with turkey in place of the beef. I’ve made it a couple of times with a couple of kinds of sausage. The first time I used regular ground pork sausage. The second time I used sausage that said “Italian Sausage” on the package. I actually preferred the regular kind. Also, I highly recommend undercooking the pasta at first or else it will get mushy (the mistake I made first time around.) Even if it is mushy, it’s still amazing and rich. Speaking of rich, The original recipe calls for not draining all the fat off the meat. This seemed scary, but I went with it. I’m telling you that little bit of fat adds to the awesomeness. If you’re already making a recipe with nearly three pounds of cheese in it… well… you can finish that sentence.
Baked Ziti, adapted from The Pioneer Woman
- Extra virgin Olive Oil
- 3-5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large yellow or white onion, chopped
- 1 lb pork sausage (see note above)
- 1 lb ground beef (see above)
- 1 28 oz can whole tomatoes, with juice.
- 2 15 oz cans tomato sauce
- Salt And Pepper, to taste
- 16 ounce box of ziti, undercooked by two minutes
- 1 15 oz tub, whole milk Ricotta cheese
- 1-1/2 pounds grated Mozzarella cheese
- 1/2 c. grated Parmesan
- 1 Egg
1. Make sauce – heat 2 T oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and saute for 3-4 minutes, or until soft. Add garlic and stir for another minute. Add sausage and ground beef and cook until browned. Drain off most of the fat.
Heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute 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 with their juice, tomato sauce, and salt and pepper to taste (I used just 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.) Reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. If you’re not in a hurry to assemble the dish right away, let the sauce cool completely. If you plan to make it ASAP, take 3 cups of sauce out of the bowl to cool down (if you don’t do this, it will melt the cheese when you assemble the ziti.)
2. Make the cheese mixture – Mix together ricotta cheese, two cups of the grated Mozzarella, parmesan, egg and a little more salt and pepper. Stir together, briefly to combine. (Leave the large lumps of Ricotta in there.)
3. Assemble the pasta – Combine cooked, cooled pasta with cheese mixture and mix slightly (leave the clumps of cheese mixture). Add the 3 cups of cooled sauce and stir. Add 1/2 this coated pasta to a large casserole pan. Pour over 1/2 the remaining sauce, then half the remaining cheese. Repeat, finishing with cheese.
4. Bake – Bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes, until hot and bubbling. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.