a comforting baked ziti dinner

warm pot of cheesy baked ziti for dinner

Baby, it's cold outside! I know you want something warm in your belly. Now, let's think comforting, cozy, and warm...Italian! Ah yes, pasta to the rescue! Pasta is a staple in many houses including my own. I mean, we seriously eat some kind of pasta at least three times a week if not more. Whether it's a side dish or a full-on meal, it provides that extra comforting piece that ties the food together. It's like our version of rice or crusty bread except it's egg noodles, penne, tortellini...You name it!

Baked ziti is one of those pasta dishes that makes an appearance in our dinner rotation quite frequently. It's also something that I love making because all the flavors melt together into one amazing, overflowing pot of goodness. That's how I like to cook! None of this, let's make each individual piece of our meal separately. No, thanks. Combinations of ingredients is what excites me and makes me interested in the complexity of flavors. I would much rather have a pot that's been stewing away with heaps of comforting layers than distinct bits made alone that hopefully mesh well on a plate. Nope, I'll take the former any day of the week. That's why baked ziti tends to show up on my dinner menu. It ticks all the boxes!

baked ziti hot out of the oven and ready to serve

For those of you still in the thick of winter or even just having a bit of a cold spell, get your stockpot ready. This is quite a winter warmer, and it's something that the entire family will love. Be sure to give yourself a couple good hours, though, before dinner to let it bake away in the oven. It'll get all those bubbling juices going and nicely brown up the cheese that way for an even better meal. Oh, and feel free to wear your favorite pair of cozy socks and flannel pjs while you wait!

Cheesy noodles in baked ziti dish

Baked Ziti

From Annie's Eats (adapted from Cook's Illustrated March and April 2009)

Ingredients.

1 lb cottage cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 oz grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups), divided
salt
1 lb ziti pasta (whole wheat or regular)
1 Tbsp olive oil
20 oz turkey sausage
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
5 medium cloves garlic, minced
28 oz tomato sauce
14.5 oz diced tomatoes
1 tsp oregano
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves, divided
1 tsp sugar
ground pepper
3/4 tsp cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream (or whole milk)
8 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Directions.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350° F.  In a medium bowl, whisk cottage cheese, eggs, and 1 cup parmesan together and set aside.  Bring a large stockpot of water to boil.  Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the ziti. Cook until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5-7 minutes.  Drain the pasta and leave in colander.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Crumble in the turkey sausage and cook until nearly browned.  Add in the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is softened and the sausage is completely browned.  Stir in the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup basil, sugar, and a couple dashes of salt and pepper. Set aside. 

In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and heavy cream.  Transfer the mixture to the stockpot and simmer over medium heat. Cook until thickened, 3-4 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and add the cottage cheese mixture, 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce and 3/4 cup mozzarella.  Stir to combine.  Add the pasta and toss to coat thoroughly with the sauce.

Transfer the pasta to a 9×13 inch baking dish sprayed with cooking spray. Spread the remaining tomato sauce evenly over the top.  Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and parmesan over the top.  Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil from the pan and continue to cook until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer.  Cool for 20 minutes.  Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of basil. Enjoy!

family-sized pot of baked ziti
Kristen KingComment