Sunday. I wanted baked ziti. But all of my previous attempts have been “meh”. It’s okay. It tastes fine the first day. Subsequent days? Not so much. But I found a recipe from The Pioneer Woman that spoke to me. It spoke to me in the language of cheese. Lots of precious, precious cheese. The Pioneer Woman and other food blog people like to show pictures of every step, complete with witty captions. Me? That takes work.
- 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 3 cloves Garlic, Minced (or a couple of teaspoon of jarred minced garlic because you forgot you don’t have any fresh cloves)
- 1 whole Large Onion, Diced (or some dried, minced onions because you don’t eat onions on a regular basis)
- 1 pound Italian Sausage
- 1 pound Ground Beef (or your preferred GROUND MEAT PRODUCT)
- 1 can (28 Oz. Size) Whole Tomatoes, With Juice (or a can of fire roasted tomatoes you happen to have on hand)
- 2 cans (14.5 Ounce) Tomato Sauce Or Marinara Sauce (or a jar of marinara that may or may not equal to 29 ounces)
- 2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning (uh..I might have some oregano lying around)
- 1/2 teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes (nope)
- Salt And Pepper, to taste
- 16 ounces, weight Ziti Or Mostaciolli, Cooked Until Not Quite Al Dente
- 1 tub (15 Oz. Size) Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese
- 1-1/2 pound Mozzarella Cheese, Grated (or a couple of preshred bags from the grocery store, plus a container of small cherry sized or smaller mozz balls)
- 1/2 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 1 whole Egg
- Fresh Minced Parsley (ain’t nobody got time fo’ that!)
Preheat the oven at 375.
In a skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook until soft. Or don’t. Because you don’t have any onions or real garlic.
Dump a pound of GROUND MEAT PRODUCT and another pound of GROUND MEAT PRODUCT into the skillet and brown. I say MEAT PRODUCT because I don’t know what you like. I used ground turkey (93% lean) and ground Italian sausage. I would dare say that any GROUND MEAT PRODUCT combined with ground Italian sausage would work. Beef, lamb, goat, bison. Who am I to judge?
Now, you got your GROUND MEAT PRODUCT browning. Remember that you have some dried minced onions in the cabinet. Add some. Then you also remember that you have a jar of minced garlic in the fridge. Add some of that too. Cook it all up. You can drain the fat if there’s a ton of it. But if it’s pretty lean, don’t bother. You want it to have some flavor left.
Add a jar of marinara sauce that probably adds up to the 2 jars The Pioneer Woman used. Add that single 14.5oz can of fire roasted tomatoes you keep on hand because they come in very handy. Look at the meat and sauce in the pan. Realize you didn’t add the same amounts as The Pioneer Woman but it’s okay because your pan wouldn’t have held all that anyway. Let it all simmer as you realize you have other stuff to do.
Set a pot full of salted water to boil. Dump a box of pasta into it. As this is baked ZITI you should use ZITI. I happened to have ZITI. If I didn’t I would have used just about anything I have on hand other than strand pasta. Seriously. I’ve used penne, rigatoni, elbow, whatever you got. DO NOT OVERCOOK IT. You want more than an Al Dente bite. You want to go “hrm, that’s not cooked all the way.” It’ll cook in the oven. Drain, rinse and cool the pasta. Really. Cool it. Run it under cold water, add ice cubes. Because you don’t want to wreck the cheese.
Make your cheese mix. Dump the container of ricotta in a bowl. Mix in an egg. Add a container of fresh mozzarella balls (DRAINED). These should be cherry sized or smaller. Add shredded Parmesean. Add shredded mozzarella. Because why not. Mix it up. The Pioneer Woman says not to mix it too well so that you still have clumps of ricotta. I say, that’s why you have mozz balls in there. In the end, it won’t matter. All that matters is that there is cheese.
Take about 4 cups of the sauce and let it cool. Mix that in with the cheese. Add the cheese-sauce mixture to your cooled pasta. Mix it just enough to get it kinda incorporated.
Now. Put half the pasta mix to your baking dish. Pour half the sauce over it. Add half the leftover (leftover. HAH!) shredded cheese over the sauce. Add the remaining pasta mix, then the sauce, then top with even more shredded cheese.
Bake it for 20 minutes at 375. Let it sit for FIVE MINUTE before you dig into it. Seriously!
Eat! Die in a happy cheesy bliss!
Things I would do different:
Use a bigger pot for the meat sauce. Definitely. So that I can use the right amount of sauce and tomatoes.