My life is spinning a bit out of control these days. It’s all good stuff, but it is happening fast and furiously. I counter the stress in a couple of ways. One is cycling, the other is
talking whining to friends about it. But what really helps me is to cook. I’ve said it before, but being in the kitchen chopping, dicing and stirring puts my world back in order. It’s even better if I’m cooking for a bunch of people.
Stress combined with lots of rainy, cool days and my Italian heritage make this comfort food a must have. Baked Zita has all the yummy goodness of a nice lasagna without all the work and hour long cooking time.
- 1 pound ziti pasta
- Olive oil
- 1 pound bulk Italian sausage, spicy or mix 1/2 spicy and 1/2 sweet
- 1/2 yellow onion, chopped
- 3 to 4 tsp crushed garlic
- 2 tsp dried basil, crushed
- 1 tsp dried oregano, crushed
- 1/4 tsp thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1- 6 oz can tomato paste
- 2 – 14 oz cans tomato sauce
- 8 oz mozzarella cheese, grated
- 12 oz ricotta cheese
- 1 cup grated parmesan
Saucepan, skillet, 9×13 baking dish
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the pasta and boil, uncovered, until the pasta is al dente, you want it very chewy as it will continue to cook while you bake it. Drain the pasta and toss with a little olive oil. DO NOT RINSE (you want the pasta starchy so it grabs the sauce)
In a skillet, brown the sausage. When it is mostly browned, add the onions and stir well to combine. Sauté everything until the onions are translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic, spices and stir to combine. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, then add tomato paste, stirring to coat all the meat. Add tomato sauce and bring to a low simmer for 5 minutes.
Spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a lightly oiled 9×13-inch casserole pan. Add a layer of pasta, ladle more sauce, spoon 1/2 the ricotta cheese over sauce, in dollops (three across and 4 to 5 up works well, kind of like you’d do cookie dough). Spread a 1/4 of the mozzarella. Add more pasta, more sauce, remaining ricotta, 1/4 of the mozzarella, sauce, pasta and the rest of the sauce. Top with mozzarella and parmesan.
Bake at 350°F until the top is bubbly and browned, about 20 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes before cutting. I put a cookie sheet under the baking dish to catch any sauce bubbling over.
Serves at least 8
This can be put together ahead of time and refrigerated. Bake for 15 minutes, covered with foil, bake for additional 20 minutes until cheese is bubbly and brown and center is hot.
As this serves 8, you can use two 8×8 baking dishes and freeze one for later.