Here is a delightful, quick and easy recipe for Baked Ziti. I know the weather is warm. But this recipe is perfect for anytime of the year; especially Sunday dinner with the family, served with a lovely tossed salad, and Italian bread.
If you know anything about me, then you know that I absolutely love Italian food! The pastas, sauces, fish, pastries and gelato!!! Mm! I am definitely hooked, as well, on Italian culture. I guess you can say it’s in my blood…my maternal great-great grandfather was Sicilian.
When my Mom was growing up, they lived in one of the first housing for military families. My grandfather served in the Korean war. There were different ethnicities that lived in the brand new housing. Among the military wives was a very nice Italian woman, who had taught my Grams how to make authentic Italian food. In return, my Gram taught her southern cooking, or Gullah cooking. (My gram grew up in Beaufort, South Carolina.)
As the years went on, so did the friendships and the recipes shared. There were some recipes, of course, that my Gram would make her own. And as with most of her recipes, I enjoyed learning how to make them, and share them with my family and friends.
1 box of Ziti
1 pound of lean ground beef/turkey (optional)*
28oz can of crushed tomatoes
8oz can of tomato paste
16 oz of mozzarella cheese, shredded
8oz of ricotta cheese (optional)*
½ cup of parmesan cheese
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 small white onion
1 green pepper, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
Fresh basil, finely chopped
Salt & Pepper
*Adding meat is optional, as well as the ricotta cheese. However, if you choose not to use any meat, add the ricotta for more flavor. Or, Just leave in both!
Cook Ziti according to box instructions, being sure to liberally salt the water. Also, add some olive oil to boiling water. Drain and set aside (use a big pot for when you add the sauce mixture).
Preheat oven to 375°F.
In a large heated skillet, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and brown lean meat. Because you are using lean meat, you will not have to drain it. After the meat is browned, add carrots, garlic, onion and green pepper, and salt and pepper to taste(½ teaspoon each). Allow vegetables to soften a bit (about 3-5 minutes). Add tomato paste and stir until well incorporated with meat and vegetable mixture. Add can of crushed tomatoes. Mixture will be slightly thick. This is what you want. Add basil and Italian seasoning. Allow to cook for ten minutes bringing to a slight boil.
Here’s the really fun part…mixing everything together! In a large pot, or the pan you will bake this in, mix together the Ziti and sauce, being sure to coat the pasta well. Now, stir in the ricotta(if you’re using it) and ¾ of mozzarella and all parmesan cheeses. Cover with foil, shiny side down, and bake for 35-40 minutes. Long enough for the cheese to melt. Remove foil after 25 minutes, add remaining mozzarella, so that the top may be bubbly and crisp. Allow to set for a least 15 minutes.
Enjoy with a crisp salad, and Italian bread!