Baked Ziti is a wonderful dish all its own. When done correctly, it is actually very different from lasagna. If you get good ingredients and follow this recipe, you will end up with a delicious and unique authentic Italian meal that tastes like nothing you've ever had before! A word about the ingredients: fresh mozzarella cheese is not the same thing as part-skim mozarella cheese. Use fresh mozarella in this recipe. Marzano tomatoes are a must for this recipe as well, but in a pinch, Progresso whole Italian tomatoes will do. Fresh herbs can be found in the produce section of most stores, but dried herbs can be substituted.
- 1 lb ziti pasta
- 1 lb fresh mozzarella cheese
- 3⁄4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1⁄2 lb sweet Italian sausage
- 1⁄2 lb hot Italian sausage
- 1⁄2 medium onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 28 ounces whole peeled san marzano tomatoes
- 6 ounces marzano tomato paste
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 sprig fresh basil
- Remove the sausage casings and crumble the sausage.
- Add 2 teaspoons of olive oil to a pan, and brown the sausage.
- Puree the tomatoes in a blender (not too much).
- Add onions and garlic to now-browned sausage. Cook for a few more minutes until transparent.
- Add your tomato puree to the sausage.
- Add thyme and basil to sauce.
- Add some salt and pepper to taste.
- Add a generous pinch of the pepper flakes.
- Stir this up, heat to near-boil, then let it simmer covered on low for 15 minutes.
- BUILDING THE DISH.
- Boil your ziti pasta to not quite al-dente. Don't overboil, pasta will soften while baking.
- Cut the mozarella, half of it into 1/2 inch cubes, the other half in as thin of slices as you can manage.
- Remove the herb sprigs from the sauce and discard.
- Add the can of tomato paste to your sauce to thicken it up and give it a lively red color and more intense flavor.
- Add the pasta, your sauce, the cubed mozarella and half the parmesan in a baking dish.
- Top with the sliced mozarella and the remainder of the parmesan.
- Bake for about 30 minutes until golden.