Baked Ziti

Serves 10. This is a crowd pleaser adapted from The Kitchen! Add a fresh green salad and you have a feast with little time in the kitchen. I made this recently for a family to have for dinner for a couple of nights while Mom recovered from surgery. I added capers for a little saltiness and feel free to experiment with cheeses. Add Fontina for some mild melt-iness or marscapone, if you aren't crazy about ricotta, and how about pancetta, instead of sausage.
  • Olive oil or cooking spray
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, see what I used below
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1 cup)
  • 2 (24-ounce) jars of your favorite marinara sauce (about 6 cups)
  • 1 lb. of mild Italian sausage (optional)
  • 1 pound dried ziti pasta or other short pasta
  • 1 container whole-milk ricotta cheese (about 2 cups)
  • Fresh basil or oregano leaves, chopped for garnish (optional)
  • Margot's Morsels Garlic Crazy Crumbs or Parmesan finely crushed crumbs

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 9x13-inch broiler-safe baking dish with olive oil or cooking spray.

Cook the Italian sausage broken up or cut into bite-sized pieces on high heat to brown the outside but the inside will cook with the rest of the dish.

Drain and cut 1 pound fresh mozzarella cheese into 1/2-inch cubes. I used the Fresh Mozzarella Perlini that are already that size. Finely grate 2 ounces Parmesan cheese (about 1 cup).

Pour 2 (24-ounce) jars marinara sauce into the baking dish. Add 1 pound dried ziti pasta, the mozzarella, and half the Parmesan cheese. Toss to combine and evenly coat the pasta in the sauce.

Drop the pieces of sausage into the pasta mixture. Dollop 1 container whole-milk ricotta cheese over the entire mixture and press, keeping pockets of ricotta exposed here and there. The mixture should be in a single even layer. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle the morsel crumbs thickly around the edge. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake until the pasta is almost tender but still quite al dente, about 40 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes more. Switch the oven to broil and broil until the top is browned in spots, 2 to 3 minutes, max. 

Meanwhile, coarsely chop a few basil or oregano leaves for garnish, if desired. Once out of the oven, let cool for 5 to 10 minutes before garnishing with the basil or oregano, and serve.

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