Simple Baked Ziti

So, Memorial Day weekend in the Lowcountry. Hang at the beach? Sit by the pool? I mean we have a three day weekend and The Boy just finished school, we need to be outside celebrating, right? Well Tropical Storm Bonnie said, “Plans, schmans. We’re doing what I want this weekend.” So I guess we’re just chilling at home with a movie and a bottle of wine (or grape juice in the case of the twelve year old).

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Brown sausage in olive oil. Add onions and garlic and saute until translucent. Add tomato paste and deglaze with red wine. When reduced, add canned tomatoes and red pepper flakes.

Because I did not at ALL feel like going out in the storm (which was essentially a lot of rain and slightly windier than normal), I was forced to cook with what I had on hand, which, I ain’t gonna lie, was not ziti. I had two partial boxes of elbow macaroni, a pound of Italian sausage, a stupid amount of Italian cheese blend, canned tomatoes, onions and garlic. So baked “ziti” it is!

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Simmer tomato sauce at least thirty minutes. Stir in herbs at end.

Honestly, I keep all of that stuff on hand most of the time and this particular weekend was a reason why. I can make a good home cooked meal (this or something else) pretty easily without making a special trip or going to a lot of effort. If you know you are going to be homebound like I did (did I mention the icky weather?), you can start your sauce early in the day to really give the flavors time to work. Then just parboil your pasta, toss everything together and stick it in a hot oven for about 30 minutes. You’re golden!

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Temper beaten egg with some of the warm sauce. Stir sauce into parcooked pasta until pretty soupy. Stir in tempered egg.

Baked Ziti

  • 1/4 C Olive Oil
  • 1 lb Italian Sausage (bulk is best, I had links so just removed them from the casing)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • 3/4 C red wine
  • 2 28 oz cans tomatoes, I used diced because it’s what I had (I just wouldn’t use puree)
  • 1/4 t red pepper flakes (more or less based on how spicy you want things)
  • 3/4 to 1 lb ziti (or whatever tubular pasta you have)
  • 8 oz shredded Italian blend cheese or diced mozzarella (plus a little shredded for the top)
  • salt and black pepper, to taste
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 C bread crumbs (sadly, I had only matzo meal but desperate times call for desperate measures)
  • 2 T butter, diced

In large heavy stockpot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add Italian sausage and crumble until almost no pink remains. Add onion and cook for 5-10 minutes until soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook for 1-2 more minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook for about 2 minutes until well combined. Deglaze pot with red wine, stirring to get all the yummy browned bits from the bottom of your pan. Cook for about 5 minutes until the alcohol smell burns off a bit and wine is slightly reduced. Add in canned tomatoes and stir to combine well. Stir in red pepper flakes. At this time, I also stirred in a little secret weapon I had in the freezer. When you get to the rind of your Reggiano Parmigiano, stick it in a zipper bag in your freezer. It will give excellent flavor to your sauces. It will mostly cook away but you may be left with a very chewy piece of rind at the end. For this dish, you’ll want to fish it out at the very end.

Bring to a low boil then reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 30 minutes, but the longer the better. Mine went for about 2 hours on this day. Remove from heat and stir in a handful of fresh chopped herbs (I had parsley, oregano and basil this time – rosemary would NOT be good here).

Preheat oven to 350F.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Throw in a generous amount of salt and add pasta. Cook for about half the suggested cooking time and remove from heat. Drain pasta and return it to its cooking pot off heat.

Temper the egg. Tempering means to bring up the temperature of an egg so that it doesn’t scramble when you mix it with something hot. What you will do is mix in a small spoon of the warm tomato sauce. Combine well then add a little more sauce. Keep adding and mixing until it’s about half egg and half sauce. Set this aside for just a minute.

Ladle prepared sauce through pasta, stirring to combine until it’s pretty saucy. You may not use all of the sauce. Save whatever is left for another use later this week. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Mix in the tempered egg.

Transfer the pasta mixture to a large, greased casserole dish so it’s about a third full. Add a layer of shredded cheese (if you are using diced cheese, you can mix right in your pasta at the same time as the egg). Add another third and more cheese. Fill the rest of the way and smooth the top a little bit. Mix together remaining shredded cheese and bread crumbs. Spread evenly over the top of your pasta and dot with butter.

Transfer dish to hot oven and bake for 25-35 minutes or until top is golden and sauces are bubbly. Remove from oven and allow to cool for about 5-10 minutes.

Spoon into large shallow bowls and garnish with a bit of fresh herbs.

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Layer pasta and cheese in large casserole. Top with bread crumbs and cheese and dot with butter. Bake until brown and bubbly

Now settle in for a dark and dreary night at home, but with a belly full of comfort to get you through.

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