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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Lazy Baked Ziti

If you have all day to work on dinner (making homemade sauce and such) I would recommend going with Pioneer Woman's version of Baked Ziti. However, if you don't have the time for all that (or if you're feeling particularly lazy) this is a great alternative.

I used to work at a fast food Italian restaurant called Fazoli's when I was in high school. Despite it being fast food most of the food there was decent. At home I would never use the frozen, cooked meat crumbles they use in their meat sauce or the frozen breaded chicken breasts for chicken Parmesan and I wouldn't go near the liquid-at-room-temperature butter sauce they slather on their breadsticks (even though those breadsticks are phenomenal when they're hot out of the oven dipped in Alfredo sauce) but I can't say everything they serve is garbage because it would be a lie.

Their Italian pasta salad recipe is the same one I make for picnics or just for lunch and snacks and on a very old menu they had a salad called the chicken pasta Caesar salad which was romaine lettuce topped with the pasta salad, oven roasted chicken, grated Parmesan cheese, and Caesar dressing. It's still one of my favorite salads.

Another thing I learned working there was how to make gooey, cheesy baked ziti. They combined cooked pasta, marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese, baked it in the oven, and then topped it with meat sauce to serve. It really is something special when served fresh.

I have adjusted their recipe a bit to suit my own tastes but the idea is the same and it turns out just as gooey cheesy as it did at the restaurant. I would definitely recommend this for a busy weeknight meal as it can be made quickly or in advance and even frozen until you're ready to bake and serve.

Lazy Baked Ziti

Source: adapted from Fazoli's restaurant

12 oz penne pasta (this time I went with the tri-color)
1 lb sausage (breakfast sausage is fine but if you have Italian sausage, even better)
1 (24 oz) jar spaghetti sauce of your choice (you could use homemade sauce but this is supposed to be the lazy version)
8 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
grated Parmesan for serving

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and spray a 9x9 baking dish with vegetable oil spray. Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted, boiling water according to the directions on the package.

Meanwhile, brown the sausage in a large skillet over medium heat.

Once the meat is cooked through and no longer pink turn off the heat.

Add the sauce.

Mix it to combine.

Once the pasta is cooked drain it and return it to the pot. Add the sauce to the pasta and toss to combine.

Pour about half of the mixture into the prepared baking dish.

Sprinkle half of the cheese over the pasta mixture. Spread the other half of the pasta over the cheese and then top with the remaining cheese.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes, until the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown in spots.

Serve hot with garlic toast and a side salad.

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