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~ My Basic Baked Ziti w/Sausage & Three-Cheeses ~

Baked Ziti #3One of my regular readers asked me if I could/would share a main-dish pasta casserole recipe that was not lasagna.  She went on to say that while she likes lasagna, she wanted a recipe that she could prepare quickly on a weeknight or casual Friday for her family and friends.  She wanted something she could "just scoop out and serve with a salad to the side".  What I found interesting was, she sounded a bit apologetic for asking me for this type of recipe -- as if a casserole would be "beneath me."  Trust me, I love a great casserole as much as next person!

IMG_3395Every really good cook or chef, of any level, ALWAYS has a couple of this type of delicious and quick-to-put-together casseroles in their repertoire.  If they don't admit to that, they are not telling you the truth.  After pondering this for a few moments, I started asking myself why I hadn't posted  any casserole recipes like this on my blog to date.  The truth be told, I have shared this recipe with so many people over the years, it probably should have been one of my first posts.  

Make someones day -- make a great casserole!

IMG_3422When our boys were growing up, I made this recipe quite often.  Our kids, their friends and even the parents could not get enough of it.  Over the years I've served it at cub scout meetings, grade school fundraisers, Penn State tailgates, various church pot-lucks, and, sadly, even one neighborhood funeral.  My son Jess makes this, so does my cousin Victor, and Joe's mother loves it, which is fine by me, because it is really quick and easy to prepare.  After our boys "left the nest", this recipe gradually made its way to the bottom of my recipe box, where it stayed for several years.  Then, in 1999, the sensational HBO series The Sopranos hit  the television airwaves.  Suddenly, after the very first episode aired, everyone wanted to know how to make baked ziti... and I found myself handing out printed copies of my recipe to all of my friends!

Baked Ziti #4 (Ingredients)
















1  pound ziti, penne, rigatoni, or a combination of tubes, shells and spirals

1  stick butter, cut into pieces, at room temperature

4  tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2  pounds sweet or hot Italian sausage, links or rings, the best available

1  cup port wine

2  24-ounce jars, store-bought marinara or tomato-basil sauce, your favorite brand (I usually use my own homemade sauce, which I have on hand in my freezer, so by all means use your own if you've got it.)

8  ounces store-bought, pre-grated provolone and mozzarella cheese (You can pre-grate these two cheeses if you want to, but it is not going to make much of a difference so:  "let it go"!)

1/2  cup  finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (Always use the real thing and grate it yourself.)

Italian seasoning blend or dried oregano, for sprinkling over the top

red pepper flakes, for sprinkling over the top (optional)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish

Baked Ziti #5 (Sausage Coined)

~ Step 1.  Place 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a 12" skillet, preferably nonstick.  Without removing casing from the sausage, slice it into 1/2" coins, placing them in the pan as you work.  Note:  In kitchen terminology, the verb "coin" means to create a coin shape, either by stamping, like a dough with a round cookie cutter, or slicing a cylindrical object, like a carrot, with a knife.

Baked Ziti # 6 (Browned Sausage and Deglaze with Wine) ~ Step 2.  Over medium-high heat, saute the sausage coins until they are just cooked through and lightly browned, stirring frequently, about 12-15 minutes.

The coins will resemble little browned meatballs!

Slowly add the wine.  Using a nonstick spatula, deglaze the pan by gently scraping all of the little browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Baked Ziti # 7 (Sausage Balls in Sauce)~ Step 3.  Add the marinara or tomato-basil sauce.  Adjust heat to gently simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about 15-20 minutes.

Remove  skillet from heat.  Set aside for about 1 hour, to allow the flavors to marry, or, until ready to cook the pasta and assemble the casserole.  Doesn't this look just wonderful?

Baked Ziti # 8 (Cooked Pasta  Butter)~ Step 4.  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add and cook the pasta until al dente, about 9 minutes.  Do not overcook:  remember, the pasta is going to bake in the oven!

Drain thoroughly and immediately return the steaming hot pasta to the still warm stockpot.  Place the stockpot on the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter.  Gently stir until butter is melted and pasta is evenly coated.  Allow to rest, about 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until there is no longer any butter puddling in the bottom of the pot. 

Baked Ziti # 10~ Step 5.  Gently add and stir all of the sausage pieces and sauce into the cooked pasta.

At this point, I personally like to let the mixture sit in the warm stockpot for about 10 additional minutes, stirring occasionally.  This is not an absolute requirement, but it allows the pasta a bit of time to pre-absorb some of the sauce and I highly recommend it!

IMG_3392Step 6.  Transfer the mixture from the stockpot into a 9" x 13" x 2" casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  Do not pack or press mixture down.  Distribute grated mozzarella and provolone over all, followed by the Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Sprinkle with the Italian seasoning blend and optional red pepper flakes.

IMG_3404~ Step 7.  Cover loosely with aluminum foil.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, about 20-25 minutes.  Uncover and bake an additional 10-15 minutes, or until cheeses are lightly browned, bubbly and the casserole is heated through and steaming.  Remove from oven and allow to rest, 15-20 minutes prior to serving:

IMG_6185My Basic Baked Ziti w/Sausage & Three-Cheeses:  Recipe yields 8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; cheese grater; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; 1-cup measuring container; spatula; 8-quart stockpot; colander; large spoon; 3-quart (13" x 9" x 2") casserole dish;  aluminum foil

Cook's Note:  This is one of those easy "go to" recipes that you will use over and over again.  There is nothing fancy or gourmet about it... just unpretentious and delicious goodness.  I hope you will share this recipe with as many people as I have over the years!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011) 


Bon Appetito to you too Clarice! Great to hear from you on a blah, blah Monday here too! Enjoy your ziti!

Wow, Melanie, this sounds so good that I'm going to make it for supper this evening. Thanks for inspiring me on a blah, blah Monday:)) Bon Appetito!!

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