For family gatherings we number 10. This is important information because when we all get together, I am usually cooking dinner for the group. With five kids and their husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends and significant others … we make a crowd and this crowd pleasing Baked Ziti really hits the spot.
This family favorite has been at the center of birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and casual get togethers. It has nourished the family during movie nights, graduations and board game competitions. Suffice it say, this dish is so much a staple in the household, it deserves its own seat at the dinner table.
Baked Ziti has garnered this special spot not just in its great pasta flavors or the fabulously gooey melted cheese … but, because I usually have had these ingredients on hand. Two jars of pasta sauce, a pound of hamburger and mozzarella cheese are easily staples for me. At any given notice, I can whip up a Baked Ziti for all to eat.
And now, I would like to share this family favorite with you. I hope you enjoy.
We start with the pasta. Ziti noodles are medium-sized tubes and are delicious. If you can’t find ziti, mostoccioli makes a good substitute. Mostoccioli looks just like ziti only with a slanted cut. Penne, however, is probably too thick. Cook the ziti al dente, or when they are firm yet cooked through which takes 10-12 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, you will be working on the meat sauce. Start with about a pound of ground beef. It’s not an exact science. I rarely have exactly a pound, but when it’s more than a pound I consider it a bonus. I think this Baked Ziti had 1.3 pounds of ground beef. Bonus! Brown the meat with sautéed onions and garlic until it is cooked through. Drain the excess fats and return to the skillet.
Add two jars of your favorite pasta sauce or about 5 cups of homemade tomato sauce. Add some italian seasoning (basil is my preference) and let it simmer for at least 15 minutes. Return the drained ziti to the large pot it was boiled in and pour the meat sauce over it. Stir until the pasta is coated well. Great! Now it’s time to assemble the Baked Ziti.
I use a 15-inch roasting pan, because like I said … crowd pleasing. This will make a lot, enough to feed a crowd (I feed 10 with a salad and bread) or enough to feed a family of four with leftovers. Don’t dismiss the leftover idea with this dish. Hello, yumminess.
First, place about 1/3 of the mixture into the pan and top with about 1 cup of shredded mozzarella cheese. Repeat two times ending with the remaining 2 cups of mozzarella cheese. Sprinkle a little italian seasoning on top and voila! You are done.
If you are making this ahead of time (which I highly recommend for a gathering), cover the ziti and place it into the refrigerator. While you are cleaning up, the flavors will all meld together into a giant mass of deliciousness.
If you want to eat it right away … like I usually do … cover and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30 to 45 minutes or until the cheese is fully melted and bubbly. This method also produces a giant mass of deliciousness, just quicker.
I seem to remember, years ago, also adding in ricotta cheese. I don’t remember when I stopped using ricotta cheese, but it was probably because I didn’t have any on hand at the time. Somewhere down the line this baked ziti has evolved … just like family gatherings tend to do … into this dish it has become.
And I don’t even miss it. What’s important with this baked ziti is that when all the kids come over, whether we number four or 10 or 14 … I have a meal I can pull together to feed the crowd and still enjoy the festivities.
Hope you enjoy!
- 1 (16 ounce) package Ziti noodles
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, chopped
- 1 pound ground beef
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon basil (or other italian seasoning)
- 2 jars spaghetti sauce
- 4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- Cook ziti in a large pot of boiling water according to package directions.
- In a large skillet, heat olive oil and sauté onions and garlic until onions are translucent.
- Add ground beef and salt. Cook until browned through. Drain excess fats.
- Return meat mixture back into skillet and add the spaghetti sauce. Sprinkle with basil or other italian seasoning. Let simmer, stirring occasionally.
- In large pot (the one you cooked the ziti in), combine cooked ziti with meat sauce mixture. Stir to coat well.
- In a large, deep pan (I use a 15-inch oval roasting pan) layer as follows: ⅓ of the ziti mixture, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, ⅓ ziti mixture, 1 cup mozzarella cheese, ⅓ ziti mixture and finish with 2 cups mozzarella cheese.
- Top with additional italian seasoning, if you like.
- Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.