I always think of baked ziti as a deconstructed lasagna; all the same ingredients, with a little less fuss.
It's a classic dish that has been around forever. And we all have our own way of making it.
I think the one thing that makes mine a wee bit different...and absolutely to die for, is my cheese mixture. Yes, I go with your standard ricotta/parm/egg mix. But, I take mine a step further, and add a splash of sour cream to it. I know, I know, this is NOT a traditional ingredient. But I promise you, it makes all the difference in the world!
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 sweet onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 Lb ground sirloin
1/2 Lb Italian sausage (bulk)
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper, to taste
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz can petite diced tomatoes (I use the garlic/olive oil seasoned)
1 tsp sugar
2 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 Lb ricotta cheese
1 1/2 Lb Mozzarella cheese, grated
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup sour cream
a few more dashes of salt and pepper
1 Lb ziti pasta, prepared to almost al dente
Fresh basil ribbons, as garnish
Heat olive oil in a good sized stock pot over med/high heat. Add onion and garlic, saute for about 5 to 8 minutes, or until onion starts to soften. Add your Italian sausage and ground sirloin, crumbling it as it browns. Drain off fat as you prefer. * I leave a little for flavor. Season your ground meat mixture with salt and pepper, and some crushed red pepper flakes.
Stir in your crushed tomatoes and your diced tomatoes. Turn heat to med/low, and let simmer for about 25 minutes.
Stir in 1 tsp of sugar and 2 (freshly chopped) basil leaves. Remove meat sauce from heat and let sit while you prepare your cheese and your pasta.
In a large pot, heat water to a boil, and cook pasta until it's just about al dente.
While pasta is boiling: mix your ricotta, with half of your Parm, and half of your Mozzarella, in a large bowl. Add the egg and mix well. Fold in the sour cream. Season with a few dashes of salt and pepper.
Drain your ziti and rinse it under cool water to stop the cooking process. Pour it into the bowl with your cheese mixture, toss to combine.
Now, in a large baking dish, add 1 cup meat sauce; spreading it out with a spatula. Top with half of your cheese coated ziti and half of your meat sauce. Srinkle half of remaining Mozz and parm on top of meat sauce. Repeat one more time: cheese sauce covered ziti, meat sauce, Mozz/Parm.
Bake for 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh basil ribbons.
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