Picture this: A bubbling casserole dish emerges from the oven, filling your kitchen with an irresistible aroma. As you scoop out a generous portion of creamy, cheesy Baked Ziti, it’s hard to resist the anticipatory joy of that first, satisfying bite. Today, we’re letting you in on a little secret – the key to creating a Baked Ziti masterpiece that will soothe your comfort food cravings like nothing else.
Baked Ziti is the epitome of Italian comfort food. It’s a harmonious blend of perfectly cooked pasta, rich and hearty sausage, velvety tomato sauce, and layers of luscious, melted cheese. Each bite is a symphony of flavors that wraps you in warmth and deliciousness.
- 1 pound Ziti Pasta
- 1-1.5 pounds Italian Sausage
- 2 tablespoons Branch and Vine Garlic Olive Oil
- 1 Onion
- 3 Garlic Cloves (Minced)
- 25 ounces Marinara Sauce
- 14.5 ounces Petite Diced Tomatoes
- 1 cup Water
- 1 teaspoon Dried Basil
- 1 teaspoon Dried Oregano
- 2 Bay Leaves
- Salt and Pepper to taste
- 8 ounces Mozzarella (shredded)
- 1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese
- 1 cup Part Skim Mozzarella (shredded)
Step-by-Step Guide to Baked Ziti:
- Begin by bringing a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Cook the ziti according to the package instructions. Once cooked, drain it and set it aside.
- In another pot or a deep skillet with high sides, heat your pan over medium heat. Brown the Italian sausage, breaking it apart as it cooks. If you prefer, drain the excess fat. Return the sausage to the pan. To the cooked sausage, add the Branch and Vine Garlic Olive Oil, finely chopped onion, and minced garlic. Saute until the onion is mostly tender, which takes about 3 minutes.
- 3. Stir in the petite diced tomatoes, marinara sauce, water, dried basil, dried oregano, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Mix it well and cover the pan. Allow it to simmer for 30 minutes. After this time, taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves for a smoother texture.
- Add the cooked ziti to the sauce and stir to ensure the pasta is evenly coated. Now, introduce fresh mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Stir it gently to let the cheese melt slightly into the sauce. Finally, pour the saucy ziti mixture into a lightly greased 9×13-inch baking dish.
- Top the dish with an additional 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese. Cover it with lightly greased foil and bake it at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-30 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and slightly golden. For that finishing touch, sprinkle some chopped parsley on top (optional) and serve your steaming Baked Ziti while it’s hot.
Expert Tips and Tricks:
- Don’t skimp on the simmering time; it’s essential for infusing the sauce with flavor.
- Opt for a quality, flavorful Italian sausage for the best results.
- Customize your Baked Ziti by adding vegetables like spinach, mushrooms, or bell peppers.
- For a spicy twist, use spicy Italian sausage or add red pepper flakes to the sauce.
What to Serve With:
- Baked Ziti pairs wonderfully with a side of garlic bread, a fresh garden salad, or a crusty baguette. A chilled white wine or a simple glass of sparkling water can complement the meal beautifully.
- Any leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Reheat portions in the oven or microwave to recapture the comforting flavors.
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook ziti according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
In another pot or deep skillet with high sides, heat pan over medium heat. Brown sausage, breaking apart as it cooks. Drain if desired. Replace back in the pan. To the cooked sausage, add olive oil, onion, and garlic and saute until mostly tender, about 3 minutes
Stir in diced tomatoes, marinara sauce, water, basil, oregano, bay leaves, salt, and pepper. Stir well. Cover and simmer 30 minutes. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings. Remove bay leaves
Add cooked ziti to the sauce and stir to coat. Add in fresh mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Stir to melt slightly. Pour into a lightly greased 9×13 pan. Add 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, cover with lightly greased foil, and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes. Top with chopped parsley (optional) and serve hot
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