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Baked Ziti with Sausage

This bubbling baked ziti is perfect for feeding a crowd, and it freezes well too.



This baked ziti is a MAJOR family-pleaser. Loaded with Italian sausage, which packs a ton of flavor, it’s similar to meat lasagna but without the fuss; it’s easy enough for a weeknight but also special enough for company; and it makes a great prep-ahead potluck dish. To save time, go ahead and use pre-shredded mozzarella cheese from a bag; just be sure it’s made from whole milk (low-fat won’t taste nearly as good). While the baked ziti is in the oven, throw together a big Italian salad and warm some bread, and dinner is served!


WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO MAKE BAKED ZITI WITH SAUSAGE



Before we get to the step-by-step instructions, a few words about the ingredients:


  • Ricotta cheese is a traditional addition to baked ziti, but I leave it out because it has a tendency to get dry and grainy when baked. I use heavy cream to add richness instead.

  • For the mozzarella cheese, I recommend using whole milk mozzarella; it melts beautifully. You can purchase a plastic-wrapped brick of mozzarella (pictured above and sold in the dairy case) and shred it yourself. (To make it easier to work with, pop it in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes prior to shredding.) Or, to save time time, use pre-shredded mozzarella; just be sure it is made from whole milk. Avoid fresh buffalo mozzarella, which is best suited for salads.

  • Many grocers sell bulk Italian sausage (pictured above), which is simply ground sausage without the casings. If you can’t find it, you can ask your butcher to take the meat out of the casings or do it yourself.

STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS FOR BAKED ZITI


Step 1: Boil the Noodles


Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the ziti according to the package instructions until a few minutes shy of al dente, about 7 minutes. (It will continue to cook in the oven, so you want to undercook it just a bit.) Drain and add the pasta back to the pot. Set aside.



Step 2: Make the Sauce


Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, and crumble the sausage into the pan.



Cook the sausage, breaking apart with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned and just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a plate.



Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and set over low heat (if you don’t have enough fat in the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil). Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft but not browned, about 1 minute.



Stir in the crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar and red pepper flakes and simmer for 10 minutes.



Add the heavy cream, 1/3 cup of the pecorino Romano, and basil to the pan.



Then stir in the cooked sausage.



Carefully pour the contents of the sauté pan into the large pot with the pasta and gently stir to combine.



Step 3: Assemble & Bake


Spoon half of the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded mozzarella and half of the remaining pecorino Romano.



Spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and pecorino Romano.



Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and browned, 15 to 20 minutes.



HOW TO MAKE BAKED ZITI AHEAD


The dish can be assembled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days in advance, or frozen for up to 3 months. If frozen, defrost in the refrigerator overnight, and bake, covered tightly with aluminum foil, in a 425°F (220°C) oven for 25 minutes. Then uncover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is lightly browned and the pasta is hot throughout.



Baked Ziti with Sausage


By Jennifer Segal


This bubbling baked ziti is perfect for feeding a crowd, and it freezes well too.


Servings: 8 to 10 Prep Time: 40 Minutes Cook Time: 50 Minutes Total Time: 1 Hour 30 Minutes


INGREDIENTS

  • 1 lb ziti noodles

  • 1.5 lbs ground spicy or sweet Italian sausage (or removed from casings)

  • 4 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1½ teaspoons sugar

  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

  • 1 cup heavy cream

  • ⅓ cup plus 3 tablespoons grated pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano Reggiano) cheese, divided

  • ⅓ cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for serving

  • 8 oz whole milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)


INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the ziti according to the package directions for very al dente, about 7 minutes. (It will continue to cook in the oven so you want to undercook it just a bit.) Drain and add the pasta back to the pot. Set aside.

  2. Preheat the oven to 425°F and set the oven rack in the middle position.

  3. Heat a large sauté pan (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat. Crumble the sausage into the pan and cook, breaking apart with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned and just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a plate. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and set over low heat (if you don't have enough fat in the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil). Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft but not browned, about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar and red pepper flakes and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

  4. Add the cream, ⅓ cup of the pecorino Romano, cooked sausage, and basil to the pan; stir until evenly combined. Carefully pour the contents of the sauté pan into the large pot with the pasta and gently stir to combine. Spoon half of the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded mozzarella and half the remaining pecorino Romano. Spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and pecorino Romano. Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with more basil and serve.

  5. Make-Ahead/Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The dish can be assembled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days in advance, or frozen for up to 3 months. (If frozen, defrost in the refrigerator overnight.) Whether refrigerated or frozen and defrosted, bake, covered tightly with aluminum foil, in a 425°F oven for 25 minutes. Then uncover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is lightly browned and the pasta is hot throughout.

NUTRITION INFORMATION


Per serving (10 servings)

  • Calories:613

  • Fat:38 g

  • Saturated fat:18 g

  • Carbohydrates:43 g

  • Sugar:6 g

  • Fiber:3 g

  • Protein:25 g

  • Sodium:913 mg

  • Cholesterol:111 mg

Special thanks to Jennifer Segal, for the recipe and images. You can support Jennifer by purchasing her cookbook, "Once Upon a Chef, the Cookbook," featuring over 100 delightful recipes.

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