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Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Baked Ziti

If you are looking for a hearty meal that will feed an army this is the meal for you!

And what a great post to start off 2014.

Honestly, with only the three of us eating (I usually count 2 1/2 since Bailey eats about half as much as us) our leftovers lasted four days! (I will probably cut the recipe in half next time.) I was particularly pleased with the way this meal turned out considering that Aaron doesn't like chunks of tomatoes in his food and I don't care for ricotta cheese.

This ziti has everything I could ask for. It has a hearty chunky sauce with spicy Italian sausage and tons of gooey melted cheese. The haphazard way that everything is tossed together makes every bite a bit different. Some bites are saucy pasta and others are creamy ricotta and sausage. Even when I ate the leftovers I must have said 50 times how much I enjoyed the dish.

Pair this with some salad and garlic toast and you will be able to impress all of your friends!

Baked Ziti

Source: The Pioneer Woman Cooks

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb ground Italian sausage
1 lb ground sirloin
1 (28 oz) can petite diced tomatoes
1 (28 oz) can tomato sauce
2 tsp Italian seasoning (could substitute 1 tsp basil and 1 tsp oregano if you don't have Italian seasoning)
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper to taste
16 oz ziti (or other tube shaped noodle such as penne) cooked just short of al dente
15 oz tub ricotta cheese
4-5 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese, grated
1 egg

In a large pot heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 5-8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute.

Add the Italian sausage and ground sirloin and cook until browned (as my bestest friend says, scramble the meat) and drain off any excess fat.

(You'll want to leave a tiny bit of the fat for flavor though.)

Add the diced tomatoes (undrained), tomato sauce, Italian seasoning, and crushed red pepper. Mix in salt and pepper to taste. Allow the sauce to simmer for 25-30 minutes. (Meanwhile you can cook the pasta. Remember to leave the pasta slightly under-cooked so that it doesn't turn to mush when you bake it.)

Remove 3-4 cups of the sauce in a separate bowl and set it aside to cool.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and spray your largest baking dish with vegetable oil spray and set aside. (Seriously, my 9x13 baking dish was not big enough for this.)

In a large mixing bowl combine the ricotta, egg, and 3-4 cups of mozzarella.

Mix gently, leaving some large chunks of ricotta for texture. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the pasta is cooked drain and rinse in cold water so that the pasta doesn't stick together.

Add the pasta to the mixing bowl with the cheese and toss again, gently.

Now add the cooled sauce to the cheese/pasta mixture and toss again, gently. (I can't stress enough how gently you should toss the cheese mixture. Those large chunks of ricotta turn into something fantastic when baked.)

Pour about half of the cheese/pasta mixture into the prepared baking dish. Pour about half of the sauce over top of that. Maybe sprinkle a bit of the remaining mozzarella over the sauce.

Pour the remaining cheese/pasta mixture into the baking dish, top with the remaining sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Now bake the whole thing in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is browned and bubbly. Let sit for 5 minutes before serving.

Serve with a side salad and some garlic toast or garlic knots or bread sticks.

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