Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Best Baked Ziti

At least, the best baked ziti according to my standards.  And those of my husband's co-workers.

I was in California for work all week last week and for some reason I thought that instead of packing and doing laundry on the Sunday before I left like I should have been, I would plan and cook time-consuming comfort foods for my husband to eat while I was away.  I was thinking, "what on earth will the poor dear eat when he's all lonely and sad while I'm gone?"  I'm pretty sure the answer is that he would order pizza while he relished the fact that he finally got to hold the remote, but this is my blog and therefore I'm allowed to share my own, deluded version of reality.  So I set to work on concocting this here baked ziti and a big old batch of baked potato soup (recipe for that coming soon, I swear). 

I didn't get to each much of the ziti, but I had a little taste when it came out of the oven, and it was pretty amazing if I do say so myself.  Granted, it's hard to go wrong with pasta, sausage, and like a million kinds of cheese.  It was evidently a hit around my husband's office, too (sorry to the ladies who are trying to diet).  Enjoy!

Classic Baked Ziti
Source: Adapted from Pioneer Woman

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
1 1/2 pounds hot Italian sausage (ground, in the container like ground beef comes in)
1 large jar (16-20 oz) marinara sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound Rigatoni, cooked to just short of al dente
1 tub (15 oz) whole milk ricotta cheese
2-3 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 medium sized ball fresh mozzarella, sliced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute for several minutes, or until starting to soften. Add Italian sausage and cook until browned.  Add the marinara, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes. Stir and simmer for 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta to just shy of al dente (it should have a pretty significant "bite" to it still).
Drain the pasta and rinse under cool water to stop the cooking and cool it down.  Mix pasta with the sauce.

Add half of the pasta and sauce mixture to a large casserole dish.  Top with half of the fresh mozzarella, shredded mozzarella, and grated Parmesan.  Add small dollops of the ricotta a couple of inches apart as well.  Repeat with another layer of the pasta/sauce mixture and the cheeses.  Add a little extra Parmesan on top.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbling.  Turn oven to broil and broil for a couple of minutes to brown the cheese.  Make sure to watch carefully as not to burn it!  Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

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