Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Recipe: Three-Cheese Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage

Today's world food you can prepare at home is a familiar one to many people. Baked Ziti comes in a myriad of styles and interpretations. That's because it's good and everyone takes their own angle at it. For many of my Italian friends it is one of their favorite comfort foods.

I'm not going to stretch the truth here, the recipe below is a little involved, but not really complicated, nor does it demand any special talents or tools. It's a large recipe that is suitable for a family dinner or even a party. Generally, this dish will get my family through three days worth of dinners. Correction: three days worth of welcome dinners!

Leftovers can make some folks groan, but there's a way around that kind of resistance. One restaurant trick I suggest using with this dish or similar ones like lasagna or chicken or eggplant parmesan is having a quantity of hot marinara sauce reserved for dressing the dish while placing it on individual serving plates. Sure, this may be common sense for a lot of home cooks, but I cannot count how many times I've been served similar dishes without the benefit of some fresh sauce! That's the reason I suggest the extra marinara first in the ingredients below.

Three-Cheese Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage

1 quantity of Sun-Dried Tomato Marinara Sauce
2 1 lb. boxes of ziti
3 TBS olive oil
4 cloves garlic (crushed)
1 lb. Italian sausage (skin peeled off)
1 lb. ground beef
1 28 oz. can roasted tomatoes (I use Muir Glenn Fire Roasted, see link at top of page.)
1-1/2 cups tomato sauce
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 tsp ground fennel
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper (to taste)
2 TBS sweet butter
1 lb. ricotta cheese
3/4 lb. mozzarella cheese (shredded)
1/3 cup parmesan-reggiano cheese (grated)
1 large tomato (thinly sliced)
1/4 cup Italian breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Make the Sun Dried Marinara Sauce and keep it on a low simmer on your stove while you prepare the other ingredients.

Place a large sauce pan or dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and when it begins to shimmer add the crushed garlic and cook it until it browns and softens. Remove the garlic and allow it to cool, then mash it into a paste and set aside.

Add the Italian sausage and ground beef to the oil and cook until crumbly and well browned.

Add the roasted tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken stock, fennel, bay leaf, mashed garlic, salt and pepper to the sausage and ground beef mixture. Mix well, raise to a boil, lower to a healthy simmer and continue cooking for 30 minutes stirring occasionally. You want it to reduce and thicken.

While the sauce simmers cook the ziti in the normal way being sure to keep it al dente. When the pasta finishes cooking, drain it and pour it into a large bowl. Gently mix in the butter to coat the ziti.

When the sauce is done, check for seasoning and adjust, remove it from the heat. Add the finished sauce to the ziti and blend it well.

Take a 10 x 14 baking dish and spread the ziti and sauce mixture evenly within the pan. Take spoonfuls of the ricotta and slip the ricotta under the ziti at regular intervals throughout the ziti. Now firmly level and press the ziti into the pan. You are looking to get it to pack a little so it will hold it's shape like lasagna after baking and cooling.

Sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over the top of the ziti, followed by the parmesan-reggiano. Then take the tomato slices and lay them out over the top of the mixture. Finally, sprinkle the bread crumbs over the mix and pop the pan into the oven for 35 to 45 minutes. You're looking for the top to get golden and bubbly here.

Remove from the oven and allow it to cool and set for at least 20 minutes.

Take your serving plates and spoon a generous portion of the marinara onto it. Carefully cut and remove a block of baked ziti and place it on the plate. Then add more marinara to the top. Serve with a sprinkle of cheese and perhaps some basil.

Red wine, crusty bread - HEAVEN!

Recipe: Three-Cheese Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage from Chop Onions, Boil Water by Henry Krauzyk


  1. Yes I see that serving seems to be resting in a pool of sauce. It must be leftover. ▲ Still looks darn appetizing though! ▲

  2. how in the world did they get it to look like that?