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Chiffonade's Baked Ziti

As my cyber-friend Chiffonade likes to say "There are about as many recipes for Baked Ziti in the Italian world as there are names that end in vowels."

This is Chiffonade's recipe with some minor modifications along the way.  I tried in vain to get Carmella Soprano's, but alas, this will just have to do

1 pound   ground beef
1 tablespoon   olive oil
2 large   onions, chopped
1 pound   ricotta cheese (Polly-O)
1 pound   Mozzarella (Polly-O) cubed into dice about ½" (Reserve ¼ lb. for topping)
~1½ quart   favorite tomato sauce (preferably Big Daddy's)
1 pound   ziti
cup   Parmesan or Romano, grated
1 tablespoon   basil
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350º.

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat until very hot, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the oil and swirl to coat then add the ground beef to the skillet and brown (see notes).  Drain the ground beef well and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium and add the onion to the skillet. Sauté until the onion is translucent.  Combine with the ground beef in a large mixing bowl.

Boil pasta for four (4) minutes. This is not a typo. Boil just long enough to wash off the starch, and drain immediately. Bring water to a boil, add pasta, stir, start counting now...Not when water returns to a boil. This dish will be baked, and if you boil the pasta too long, you will have mush.

To the beef and onion mixture add mix ricotta cheese, cup grated cheese, ¾ of the mozzarella cubes and 1 cup of the tomato sauce. Mix well. Sample and add basil, salt and/or pepper or other seasonings if necessary. Add pasta and 2 cups additional sauce, mix well.

Spoon into a casserole dish sprayed with vegetable spray. Ladle some sauce on top. Bake, covered with foil, for 30 minutes.

Remove foil, sprinkle remaining grated cheese and mozzarella, and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes. Cheese should be melted, not brown. (We call that burned) If made the day before, bake covered at around 350 until hot - probably closer to 45 minutes or 1 hour depending on how deep your casserole dish is.

Serve with garlic bread, salad and antipasto.

Note:  If necessary brown the meat in batches to avoid cooling the skillet excessively, otherwise the beef won't brown properly.


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