Now here’s a classic midweek meal, or a hot dish to bring to a potluck. Baked ziti is a lot like American lasagna, but easier to make; it has practically the same ingredients but you don’t have to fuss with lots of layers or broken noodles. This recipe is a pretty basic version, but everyone who makes baked ziti has their own unique tricks and twists to it. Some vary the cheeses, some the meat, some make meatless versions, and some people leave out the tomato sauce for a truly cheese-tastic casserole.
This version uses bulk Italian sausage, as well as a key fresh herb. In summer, that would be basil. In winter, rosemary. You could also easily use savory, sage, thyme or parsley. Ziti is a pretty common pasta shape in most areas, but you can substitute penne pasta if you can’t find it. You want a substantial short pasta shape with places to hold the sauce and meat. You can make this ahead, and either refrigerate or freeze before you do the final baking.
If you don't have Italian seasoning in the pantry, use 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon dried basil and 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme.
- 1 pound ziti (can sub penne) pasta
- Olive oil
- 1 pound bulk Italian sausage or ground beef or pork
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary (or basil), minced
- 1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 large jar of marinara sauce (about 32 ounces) or make your own tomato sauce
- 1/2 pound of mozzarella cheese, grated
- 1 heaping cup of ricotta cheese
- 1 cup grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
1 Bring a large pot of water to a strong boil. Add about a tablespoon of salt for every 2 quarts of water. Add the pasta and boil, uncovered, until the pasta is al dente—edible but still a little firm. Drain the pasta through a colander. Toss with a little olive oil so the pasta does not stick together while you make the sauce.
2 Pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil into a large sauté pan on medium-high to heat. When the oil is hot, add the bulk sausage or ground meat. Do not crowd the pan (work in batches if needed). Break up any large chunks of sausage as it cooks. Brown well. Don't stir that often or it will be more difficult for the meat to brown. If you are using ground beef or pork instead of sausage, add a little salt.
3 When the meat is mostly browned, add the onions and stir well to combine. Sauté everything until the onions are translucent and beginning to brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary or basil, Italian seasoning and red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Cook 1 minute, then add the tomato sauce and stir well. Bring to a simmer.
4 Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a 9x13-inch casserole pan, then dot the surface with half the ricotta cheese. Ladle in some sauce with the pasta, mix it well and add the pasta into the casserole.
5 Pour the rest of the sauce over the pasta, dot the remaining ricotta cheese over the pasta, and sprinkle on top both the mozzarella and the Parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven until the top is nicely browned, about 20 minutes.