Introduction

Baked ziti is a classic Italian-American dish that combines the flavors of pasta, tomato sauce, and melted cheese. It’s a comfort food favorite for many, but preparing it from scratch can seem daunting. Fear not! In this easy step-by-step guide, we will walk you through the entire process of making baked ziti, simplified for anyone, whether they’re a seasoned cook or a beginner in the kitchen.

Ingredients

To begin our baked ziti adventure, let’s gather all the necessary ingredients. Here’s what you’ll need:
– 1 pound (450 grams) of ziti pasta
– 1 pound (450 grams) of ground Italian sausage or ground beef
– 1 medium onion, finely chopped
– 3 cloves of garlic, minced
– 1 can (28 ounces/800 grams) of crushed tomatoes
– 1 can (6 ounces/170 grams) of tomato paste
– 2 teaspoons of dried basil
– 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
– 1/2 teaspoon of salt
– 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper
– 2 cups (200 grams) of shredded mozzarella cheese
– 1 cup (100 grams) of grated Parmesan cheese
– Fresh basil leaves for garnish (optional)

Now that we have all our ingredients ready, let’s move on to the step-by-step instructions.

Step 1: Prepare the pasta

Begin by preheating your oven to 375°F (190°C). While the oven is warming up, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the ziti pasta and cook it according to package instructions until it’s al dente, which means it’s cooked but still firm to the bite. Drain the pasta and set it aside for now.

Step 2: Cook the meat sauce

In a large skillet or saucepan, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and minced garlic to the pan, and sauté them for about 2-3 minutes until they’re fragrant and translucent. Next, add the ground Italian sausage or beef to the pan, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Cook the meat until it’s browned and no longer pink. This usually takes around 5-7 minutes.

Step 3: Add the tomato sauce

Once the meat is cooked, it’s time to add the tomato sauce to the mixture. Pour in the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir everything together until the tomato paste is fully incorporated into the sauce. Now, it’s time to add the herbs and seasonings. Sprinkle in the dried basil, dried oregano, salt, and black pepper. Stir well to distribute the flavors evenly.

Step 4: Combine pasta and sauce

With your meat sauce ready, it’s time to bring together the pasta and sauce in a large bowl. Add the cooked ziti pasta to the bowl, and then pour the meat sauce over it. Gently stir everything together until the pasta is coated with the sauce. This is where the magic begins!

Step 5: Layer the ziti

Now, let’s take our ziti to the next level by layering it with cheese. Start by spreading half of the ziti and meat sauce mixture evenly in a 9×13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle half of the shredded mozzarella and grated Parmesan cheese over the ziti. Repeat the process with the remaining half of the ziti and sauce, and top it off with the remaining cheese. This generous cheesy layer will bring heavenly goodness to each bite.

Step 6: Bake and serve

It’s time to let the oven do its magic! Place the baking dish in the preheated oven and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese is golden and bubbly. Once baked, remove the dish from the oven and allow it to rest for a few minutes before serving. This resting period will help the flavors meld together even more.

Garnish your baked ziti with fresh basil leaves if desired, and serve it piping hot on plates or bowls. It pairs perfectly with a side of garlic bread or a crisp garden salad. This comforting dish is perfect for family dinners, potlucks, or even for meal prepping. The leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three days and reheated whenever you desire an easy and satisfying meal.

Now that you have mastered this simple baked ziti recipe, feel free to explore variations by adding vegetables like spinach or mushrooms, or experimenting with different types of cheese. The possibilities are endless!

With this easy step-by-step guide, you can confidently whip up a delicious baked ziti dish that will impress your friends and family. So, put on your apron and get ready to savor the flavors of this Italian-American classic, made with love in your own kitchen.

Sources:
Simply Recipes – Baked Ziti Recipe
Food Network – Baked Ziti Recipe