Baked Ziti

One of the best baked pastas I’ve ever had, for sure. Via Smitten Kitchen.

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A few notes from Deb of Smitten Kitchen: To make this without meat, as I’m not personally into meat substitutes, I would use a pound or so of sliced mushrooms instead to make this vegetarian. To freeze, you can freeze this unbaked and once defrosted, bake it in the oven as directed. You could also freeze it after baking, and just defrost and rewarm it, but that leads to softer noodles because they get warmed/cooked an extra time. Finally, if you really really like those crispy edges (I do!), I find if you use a round or oval dish and ziti noodles (with straight ends) vs. penne noodles (which usually have angled ends), it especially leaves jagged edges, more prone to crisping. It also helps to just pour the pasta mix into the dish, not press it into the corners.

  • Glug of olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped small
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound ground beef or Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 28-ounce can whole tomatoes with juices, chopped by you, or crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 pound pasta, cooked al dente and drained
  • ¾ pound mozzarella, coarsely grated
  • 2/3 cup finely grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
  • ¼ pound (4 ounces) baby spinach or a few handfuls of another green, cut into thin ribbons [I did kale!]
  • To serve: Dollops of your favorite ricotta and slivers of basil leaves, if desired
  1. Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Cook pasta until quite al dente, or 2 minutes less than the suggested cooking time. (Please. It will keep cooking in the sauce, then in the oven and mushy pasta makes me sad.) Reserve ½ cup cooking water, then drain pasta.
  3. Heat large sauté pan — if yours is ovenproof, you can even use it as you final baking vessel — over medium heat. Coat with glug of olive oil, and heat oil. Add meat and cook with onion, garlic, oregano, pepper flakes, and salt over medium-high heat for 6 to 8 minutes or until meat is browned; stirring frequently. If you’re using plain ground beef versus sausage meat, you’re going to really want to season this well. Don’t be shy with the salt and pepper.
  4. Add crushed tomatoes and stir to combine. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste. If it’s become quite thick, stir in reserved pasta water. [I didn’t need to.] Add spinach and cook until wilted, just another minute. Stir in drained pasta and heat together for one minute.
  5. Pour half of pasta mixture into a 9×13-inch baking dish, lasagna pan, or other 3-quart baking vessel (or divide among smaller ones, if you’d like to freeze some off). Sprinkle with half of each cheese. Pour remaining pasta and sauce over, and finish with remaining cheese. Bake in heated oven for 30 minutes.
  6. If you wish, you can run the dish under your broiler for a minute or two for an extra-bronzed lid right before serving.
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