Pasta, a most versatile ingredient, is a perennial favorite in my cooking repertoire. Pasta dishes are easy to make, feed a large group, versatile, and delicious. Now that my husband and I are empty-nesters, I make this Baked Ziti on Sunday for dinner then I package into smaller size portions. I freeze for future dinners when I don’t have time to cook.
If you don’t want to make your own sauce you can substitute a good store-bought prepared sauce, I would use two jars. Add sausage and simmer sauce for about 5 – 10 minutes. Then proceed with the remaining recipe.
You can substitute vegan sausage for chicken and make the baked ziti vegetarian. Release your creativity when you cook and follow your instincts for delicious dinners to share with family and friends. All you need to add to this meal is a salad and freshly baked bread. Oh, and don’t forget the wine!
Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Sausage
1 package ( 5 sausages) Chicken or Vegetable sausages
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon fennel seeds, coarsely crushed
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes with their juices
1 (14-ounce) can crushed or strained tomatoes
2 bay leaves
1 package (1 pound) ziti pasta
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into bite-size pieces
8 ounces whole-milk ricotta
⅓ cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup basil leaves
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Remove the sausage from the refrigerator 10 – 15 minutes before cooking to remove the chill from the meat. Layer the baking pan with parchment paper and place sausage evenly on the cooking sheet. Place pan in the oven on the middle rack. Bake sausages for 20-25 minutes. Cool then slice into bite-size pieces.
Lower oven to 375 degrees. Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high. Add garlic, oregano, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes, and cook for 2 minutes until garlic is translucent not browned.
Stir in whole tomatoes and their juice, using a spoon to break them up. Add crushed tomatoes, bay leaves, and 2 teaspoons salt, and bring to a simmer. Add sliced sausage and simmer for 10 minutes to thicken slightly. Remove bay leaf.
Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.
Place a 1/4 cup of tomato sauce in a large baking dish. This recipe layers the pasta with ricotta, tomato sauce, and mozzarella. First, arrange 1/3 of pasta then add 1/2 ricotta. Next place 1/3 tomato sauce over pasta and ricotta. Top with 1/3 mozzarella. The next layer will again be 1/3 pasta, 1/2 ricotta, 1/3 mozzarella, and 1/3 sauce. For the final layer complete by layering the remaining pasta, sauce and finish with mozzarella. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the top, then transfer to oven. Bake until pasta is tender when poked with a fork, and cheese is bubbly and lightly golden 30 minutes. (If you’d like a more deeply browned topping, run the pan under the broiler for 1 or 2 minutes.) Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving.