Image by SoxyLady via FlickrFrom Denny: Here's an easy versatile basic version of Baked Ziti that is kid-friendly too! Sometimes, you want to cook easy, fast but tasty and here is one of those comfort food recipes that answers the call! :) With a strong Italian population in Louisiana for centuries now, everyone has learned how to cook a wide variety of those fabulous and easy dishes.
You can do a lot of variations, so add your personal touch. Try changing it up with ground turkey or ground sirloin for less fat. Add your favorite white cheddar cheese or regular yellow Colby cheddar cheese as cheddar is packed with flavor.
Add mushrooms and some more spices like extra garlic, a little curry powder (especially good with beef), basil, and thyme, yes, even on top of the Italian seasoning already in the spaghetti sauce. A little smoked red chili pepper also makes it good for adult palates!
I like to make my own marinara sauce in place of the jarred spaghetti sauce that includes a little dark brown sugar to balance the sourness of the tomatotes. (Some Sicilian friends showed me that yummy little trick though they used white sugar. I prefer the dark brown sugar as it adds to the background depth of the sauce, providing another layer of taste.)
We like Louisiana heat in our spaghetti sauce so we add that too. Really this dish hinges on the quality of your sauce, the meat used (bits of smoked pork chops from your local grocery store would be good too as a way to use up leftovers!) and the flavors of the cheeses.
Make sure you undercook any pasta. Why? Undercooked pasta doesn't make you swell or turn to fat quickly like overcooked soft pasta does. It also tastes fresher! And when you bake a dish it absorbs the flavors more: win-win!
You can always divide this dish into two baking dishes and place one in the freezer for another meal.
Prep time: 30 minutes
1 pound ground beef or ground sirloin or ground turkey
3 cups ziti, or your favorite pasta, cooked and drained (about 6 cups cooked)
1 (26-ounce) jar your favorite spaghetti sauce or your own marinara sauce
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese or cheddar cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a large skillet, brown meat and drain. Stir in ziti, spaghetti sauce, mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Spoon into 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Top with remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese. Cover and bake 20 minutes.
Per serving: 556 calories (percent of calories from fat, 49), 26 grams protein, 45 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber, 30 grams fat, 81 milligrams cholesterol, 792 milligrams sodium.