Baked ziti is a perfect week night meal and a crowd pleaser. A classic pasta casserole that is easy to put together and it is kid friendly. Use Italian sausage or ground beef because it is good either way!
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Tender ziti or penne pasta is layered with browned sausage, your favorite tomato sauce or marinara, seasonings and cheeses that melt into a creamy burst of flavor.
Bake in a standard 9 x 13-inch dish or divide between two 8 x 8-inch pans if your family is smaller. Serve one pan for dinner and freeze or share the second pan.
Here’s how to make baked ziti
Grate or shred 1/2 pound of mozzarella cheese, and grate 1 cup of Parmesan cheese.
Using kitchen scissors or a knife, cut the fresh basil into snips.
Put a pot of water on and when it comes to a rolling boil, cook the 1-pound of ziti or penne pasta according to package directions just until al dente or firm to the bite but edible. Drain the pasta and set aside.
Cooking the meat
Remove the casings from the sausage links.
While the pasta is going in the previous step, brown the sausage. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium-high heat.
When the oil is hot, add the bulk sausage or ground beef. Cook until browned, breaking up any large chunks of meat as it cooks.
When the meat is mostly browned, add the 1-cup chopped onions and stir well to combine. Sauté everything until the onions are translucent and beginning to brown, about 4-5 minutes.
Add 3 garlic cloves or 1 1/2 teaspoons jarred minced garlic.
Sprinkle in 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Stir to combine and continue cooking for a minute more.
Pour in the jar of tomato sauce and stir to combine.
Bring the sauce to a simmer. Add salt and pepper and adjust seasonings to your taste.
Layering the sausage tomato mixture, pasta and cheese
Get the oven ready by preheating to 350°F.
To begin layering the casserole, spread a thin layer of the sauce in the bottom of dish(es).
Dot the surface with half of the ricotta cheese.
Ladle a spoonful or two of the sauce mixture on top of the pasta.
Add the pasta to the dish(es).
Pour the rest of the sauce over the pasta and add the basil.
Dot the remaining ricotta cheese over the pasta.
Evenly sprinkle both the mozzarella and the Parmesan cheese on top.
Baking the ziti casserole
The casserole dish is now ready to go into the oven. To bake, place the dish in a preheated 350°F oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the top is lightly browned and the cheese melted.
How to freeze ziti for another day
Cook once, eat twice. I like that idea and it works very well with baked ziti. Serve one pan for dinner and freeze the other one for another day.
To be retain the highest quality of your baked ziti, choose a freezer-safe dish, such as a glass, metal, or foil pan. Cover the pan with a layer of plastic wrap, followed by a layer of aluminum foil.
Attach a label that includes the name of the dish, the date and baking/reheating instructions. The ziti can be safely stored in the freezer for up to two months.
Reheating Baked Ziti in the Oven
- Though you can cook baked ziti from frozen, you may want to thaw it to minimize cooking time. To thaw baked ziti that has been frozen, transfer from the freezer to the fridge and let thaw for about 24 hours, though smaller portions should be able to thaw overnight.
- When ready to reheat and bake the dish, be sure to remove the plastic wrap and keep it tightly covered with the aluminum foil.
- Bake thawed dish at 350 degrees F for about 30-40 minutes.
To bake the frozen ziti in the oven at 350 degrees F for about 1 hour.
- The baked ziti is ready when the sauce is bubbly on the edges, and the casserole is heated through.
Adapted from Simply Recipes
Makes 6 to 8 servings
- 1 pound ziti or penne pasta
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pound bulk Italian sausage, ground beef or ground pork/veal/beef mixture.
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil or rosemary
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 large jar of homemade or your favorite purchased tomato sauce (I use almost all of a 45-ounce jar but you might prefer to use less)
- 1/2 pound of mozzarella cheese, grated or shredded
- 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
- 1 cup grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese
Cook the pasta according to package directions just until al dente – firm to the bite but edible.
Drain the pasta and set aside.
Brown the meat:
While the pasta is going in the previous step, start on the sauce. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan on medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the bulk sausage or ground meat. Cook until browned, breaking up any large chunks of meat as it cooks.
Make the sauce:
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, 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.
Add salt and pepper and adjust seasonings to your taste.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Layer in casserole dish:
Spread a thin layer of the sauce in the bottom of a 9×13-inch casserole pan, then dot the surface with half the ricotta cheese. Ladle a spoonful of sauce into the pasta, stir it well and then add the pasta into the casserole.
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.
At this point you can cover and refrigerate or freeze to make ahead.
Bake in oven at 350°F until the top is lightly browned and the cheese melted, about 20 to 25 minutes.
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