What is Baked Ziti?
Traditionally, Baked Ziti is an Italian casserole dish, cooked with tomato sauce and cheese. After searching my pantry, I discovered I did not have any Ziti, nor Penne pasta, both used interchangeably in this classic recipe. Because Ziti and Penne are tubular pasta, why couldn’t I use elbow macaroni, of which I had plenty of? This dish turned out to be a “use up what is in the fridge” dish, which us home cooks – LOVE!
Legend notes upon being served a dish of macaroni, an early Italian sovereign exclaimed, “Macaroni!” Which means “how very dear.” This semolina and water-based pasta does not usually contain eggs and therefore,
are all considered macaroni pasta and could be used in my recipe below.
This recipe is what my family calls a JoAnn Concoction. I did not measure any of the ingredients. Adjust to your family’s size. Below renders enough for a 4-quart casserole dish, serving 6 adults.
- Approximately 8 ozs. a-dente cooked macaroni or tube pasta
- 1 diced onion
- 4 cloves of chopped garlic
- 2 seeded, vein removed chopped banana peppers (from my garden)
- 1 lb. ground beef or Italian sausage
- 1 Tablespoon of each: dried basil, dried oregano, dry mustard, paprika – mixed together.
- Salt and pepper
- 6 oz. Ricotta cheese
- 6 oz. Cheddar cheese, shredded
- 4 oz. Parmesan cheese, shredded
- 24 oz. of your favorite tomato-based pasta sauce (Ragu)
- Basil leaves
Heat a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Add macaroni. Return to a boil. Cook till slightly a-dente. Undercooking the pasta is okay, it will finish cooking in the oven. Drain pasta. Return pasta to the hot pot. Add ricotta cheese. Stir in cheese, thoroughly coating all pasta, till ricotta has melted. Sit to the side, keep in a pot so it will stay warm.
Heat a large, non-stick skillet to medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of olive oil. Once the oil is shimmering, add chopped onions. Cook onions for approximately 5-6 minutes, add garlic and chopped banana peppers. Cook an additional 1-2 minutes. I place a paper towel on a plate and remove onion mixture from frying pan, allowing it to drain on paper towel. Sit to the side.
Return skillet to stove at medium-high heat. Add ground beef (or sausage) to a pan. While breaking up meat into small pieces, add spice mixtures. Brown meat until no longer pink. Drain meat to remove excess fat.
Return meat to skillet, along with onion mixture and add tomato sauce, thoroughly mixing together. Heat until sauce is slightly boiling. Remove from heat.
Prepare a casserole dish by lightly spraying with olive oil spray. In bottom of a dish, lay one layer of pasta/ricotta mixture, just enough to cover the bottom of the dish. Pour a layer of your meat mixture. On top of the meat, sprinkle half the cheddar cheese and half the Parmesan cheese. On top of cheese, lay 3-4 basil leaves.
Prepare another layer of ingredients in the same manner, except do not apply basil leaves. Cheese should be the topmost layer.
Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375º for 25 minutes.
The sauce should be bubbly; remove from oven and allow to cool. Garnish with basil strips. Serve.