I started cooking when I was about 10. Sure, the meals weren’t always of the highest caliber (hello, Betty Crocker scalloped potatoes as a dinner), but I did make some decent stuff for a 5th grader. I remember one of the first dishes I made was a baked pasta dish I found on the back of a Prince pasta box. My mom was super impressed. I’m pretty sure the ingredients were pasta, jarred sauce, ground beef, and shredded cheese. And I’ve made some variation of that for two decades now. Sure, things have morphed to the point of actually seasoning the ground beef and making my own sauce (though admittedly, I often keep a jar of pasta sauce around for convenience, too), but the idea has served me well.
Sometimes, though, you need a little change of pace. And though this recipe for baked ziti is pretty “standard” it’s also pretty awesome. I love how the sauce has some cream in it to make it more luxurious, and adding two additional types of cheese is always a winner in my book.
Speaking of the cream, I made half of this recipe but accidentally forgot to cut the amount of cream in half. Oopsie! I guess since I used half and half, it ended up being about the same number of calories? Hah. That said, I liked that it had both a little extra creaminess and liquid so I’m upping the amount in the original recipe just a little (but not double) below. The only other change I made was to use ricotta instead of cottage cheese (I just like it much better) and add some turkey sausage, like Annie did. I used a spicy Italian sausage and it was a lot spicier than usual. Poor Zachary took a massive bite and said “meatball too hot! Too hot, mom!” Yikes. Mother of the year moment right there.
That aside, this baked ziti was a huge hit, and I can’t wait to make it again.
1 lb. ricotta cheese (lowfat is fine)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (about 1.5 cups), divided
1 lb. ziti
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. turkey Italian sausage
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
5 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 (28 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves, divided
1 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. cornstarch
1-1/3 cup heavy cream, half and half, or whole milk
8 oz. low-moisture mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch pieces, divided
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350° F.
Whisk the ricotta cheese, eggs, 1 cup Parmesan, and a few grinds of black pepper together in a medium bowl; set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a large pinch of salt and the pasta; cook until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5-7 minutes (about 6-8 minutes for whole wheat). Drain the pasta and leave in colander.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Crumble in the turkey sausage and cook until nearly browned. Add in the onion and garlic and continue to cook until the onion is softened and the sausage is completely browned. Stir in the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and oregano; scrape any browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes. Off the heat, stir in 1/2 cup basil and the sugar, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and cream. Transfer the mixture to the now-empty stockpot over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, 3-4 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and add the ricotta mixture, 1.5 cups of the tomato sauce and 3/4 cup mozzarella. Stir to combine. Add the pasta and toss to coat thoroughly with the sauce.
Transfer the pasta to a large baking dish and spread the remaining tomato sauce evenly over the top. Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan over the top. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the foil from the pan and continue to cook until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 20 minutes longer. Cool for 10-20 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons basil and serve.