I was going to make Eggplant Parmesan this week, but when I discovered how much three medium sized eggplants were going to cost, I decided maybe that could wait.
I already had the mozzarella cheese, and with ricotta being (slightly) less expensive than the eggplant, I decided to make a Baked Ziti.
Baked Ziti is simply pasta pieces baked with meat, tomato sauce and two kinds of cheeses. I'd say "How could you mess that up?" but I've had some baked zitis, usually store bought, that were terrible.
Ziti is a tubular pasta, and honestly I find it a bit dull.
I usually use either fusilli or rotelle as they are far more interesting:
However, I just picked up some cavatappi and thought I'd use that:
I use jarred pasta sauce in my baked pastas. I went through periods where I made my own, but these days I don't feel like I want to get involved in the long process of making a good pasta sauce. By all means, though, if you make your own sauce, your dish will be that much tastier!
Another beautiful thing about baked ziti/pasta is that you can increase or decrease the amount of ingredients based on how much you need. I feed six people (two adults, two teen girls and two "under 10" boys) plus some for leftovers, but you can easily scale this down for fewer people. For those who are vegetarian, skip the ground beef and add some extra ricotta cheese.
1 1/2 to 2 lbs shaped or "piece" pasta (the smaller the pasta, the more you may need)
1 lb ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 lb ricotta cheese
5 1/2 cups pasta sauce (this works out to 2 jars of sauce based on a jar of 650 mls, or 2 26 oz jar in the US)
12 oz mozzarella cheese, grated - about 3 cups
Preheat oven to 350F.
Boil pasta in a large pot, drain. Return to pot.
While pasta is boiling, fry ground beef and onion in a pan, crumbling the beef in to small pieces. Do not over cook or it will be tough.
Add the meat to the drained pasta, stir. Add the ricotta cheese to the pasta/meat mixture, stir to combine. Add 2 1/2 cups of sauce (or 1 jar) and as much of the remaining sauce to give it the feel you'd like to have. I always use 2 jars.
Stir in 1 cup of the mozzarella into the pasta/meat/ricotta/sauce mixture, mix to combine.
Grease a large roasting pan or glass dish, large enough to hold your mixture. I use a 9x13" Pyrex dish for my baked pastas.
Turn the pasta/meat/ricotta/sauce/cheese mixture into the dish, getting it into the corners and smoothing the top.
If you will be making this ahead of baking time, do not top with remaining cheese until the pasta/meat/ricotta/sauce mixture has cooled. Otherwise it will melt your remaining cheese and it won't melt in the oven.
Right before baking, top with remaining mozzarella cheese and bake in the oven for at least 30 minutes. Check your cheese during this time. If it looks like it's melting quickly, you can remove earlier than 30 minutes, but your filling may not be hot. If your cheese refuses to melt in that time, leave it in longer but watch that it doesn't burn.
|Before it goes in the oven|
Serve with a green salad and some fresh bread it makes a fantastic meal. And, as with most Italian food, it's better the next day.