I have a passion for pasta. Not only is it economical and kid-friendly, but pasta just makes me happy. At the end of a busy day of homeschooling three children with a toddler on my hip, I need something to securely put me in a happy place. Know what I mean?
The only problem I have with preparing a pasta casserole is that it can be messy. However, pasta dishes are easy to double and great to stick in the freezer for another day. So, when I make a baked ziti, I make it BIG.
If you are planning to tackle a project like this, clear your work space and set everything up like an assembly line. In no time at all, you will have two perfect casseroles ready to cook or freeze.
Baked Ziti Ingredients
For the sauce:
1 pound ground beef, browned and drained
1 clove garlic, pressed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 (28 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 (15 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey or brown sugar
For the ziti:
1 (16 ounce) box dried ziti or shaped pasta
1 (15 ounce) part-skim ricotta cheese
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 egg, beaten slightly
2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
How to Bake a Ziti
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Heat a medium-sized stockpot over medium-high heat. Drizzle with olive oil and then add the garlic, letting it cook for about 15 seconds. Add the remaining ingredients for the sauce to the pot. Stir well and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes. If the sauce becomes too think, use a ladle to pour one scoop of the water in which you boiled your pasta into the pot. Stir well. Repeat as needed or until you reach the consistency you desire.
Meanwhile, prepare the ziti according to package directions. Drain, reserving the water if needed for your sauce.
In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta, oregano, basil, black pepper, and egg together. Spoon the mixture into a pastry bag or a gallon-sized freezer bag. Press down into the tip, twisting the top of the bag. When you are ready to assemble the ziti, snip the corner from the bag.
Ladle the sauce into a very shallow layer into the bottom of your casserole dish. Top with a layer of the ziti. Spoon a little sauce over the pasta.
Squeeze the ricotta mixture into an even layer on top of the ziti. Add another layer of ziti and then a layer of sauce. Sprinkle with one cup of Mozzerella and 1/2 cup of Parmesan. Repeat the layers ending with sauce and topped with the cheeses.
Place a layer or parchment or waxed paper over the cheese. Wrap securely in aluminum foil and then cover completely with plastic wrap. Using a black permanent marker, write the recipe name and instructions on the package. Place in the freezer.
When you are planning to cook the frozen ziti, remove the casserole from the freezer and allow it to thaw in the refrigerator. I recommend giving the dish about 36 to 48 hours in the refrigerator to thaw completely. Then, remove the wrapping and paper and bake as directed.
Bake for 30 to 45 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the casserole is bubbling. (Cooking time varies based on the temperature of the casserole.)
Tabitha Philen, known as “Penny” to her readers at www.MeetPenny.com, is a saved by grace wife to one terrific husband and homeschooling mother to 4 amazing children, ages 8 years old and under with the oldest having an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Tabitha recently released her first ebook, Advanced Penny Pinching, in which she shares very practical tips for cutting your grocery expenses with or without coupons.
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