When the weather starts cooling after the summer, baked dinners with cozy ingredients are definitely on my radar. Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce usually ranks near the top of the list what with the pasta, meat sauce and cheese and all the warmth that it brings!
A bit of baked pasta history
Most people don't go researching baked pastas, but if you love reading cookbooks as much as I do, you won't find it unusual. In my reading, I found that pastas al forno date back to the late Middle Ages and Renaissance when they were baked in wood fired ovens, of course, and often served at banquets in the palazzos of nobles. It eventually caught on with Italians of every social class and varies from region to region. I tend to make it with the same ingredients each time and that is the recipe I give you ... with plenty of room to make it your own, of course! And if you have a wood-fired oven, you get extra points!
Is meat sauce traditional?
I would venture to say that it isn't traditional since, in Italy, pasta is usually a first course and meat follows later. However, perhaps a pasta al forno is considered a more substantial offering and would be served as a main course. At any rate, we can claim this as American Italian and lump it all in one dish, OK? I think our friends across the pond will forgive us. And if you'd like to make a simple red sauce, that's up to you, too!
Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce is a labor of love!
Admittedly, this is a labor of love so I recommend doing some prep work.
- Make the meat sauce early, even 4-5 days! Or better yet, keep some in the freezer so you can make it when you want!
- If you want to make homemade ricotta cheese, do it early. It keeps in the fridge for a good long while so no need to worry.
- Grate the cheese and store in the fridge.
I use my recipe ... Mama C's Meat Sauce for Spaghetti ... because there's no need to reinvent the wheel!
The cheeses are ricotta cheese (my homemade ricotta makes this really special!), freshly grated parmiggiano-reggiano, and mozzarella. Mix the ricotta with the parmiggiano-reggiano and a couple of eggs.
The process of layering the baked pasta
I build my Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce by making two layers of all of the ingredients, reserving just a small amount of each ingredient for the top. I start by putting a bit of meat sauce in the bottom of the baking dish. This keeps the pasta from sticking to the dish.
Then I put a layer of pasta. Cover the bottom of the baking dish in a single layer. This should be a little more than a third of the pasta.
If you don't eat gluten-free, use whatever pasta brand you like. The shape really doesn't matter ... ziti (hard to find!), penne (pictured), casarecce, fusilli. We eat gluten-free and the brand I like is Jovial, made in Lucca, Italy. It's a brown rice pasta made in the Italian tradition using local spring water and pressed through bronze dies which gives it a coarser exterior and allows the sauce to cling better.
Then a generous layer of meat sauce ...
Next, comes a generous layer of ricotta cheese mixture ...
And then grated mozzarella cheese ...
Repeat that layering once more and top it with the small amount of pasta left, the last of the sauce, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese.
Put the Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce in the oven at 350-degrees for about 30 minutes or until it is bubbling and the top is melted and golden.
Baked Ziti with Meat Sauce
- 1 recipe Mama C's Spaghetti & Meat Sauce Find the link in the post. See notes.
- 1 recipe Homemade Ricotta Cheese Find the link in the post. See notes.
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano ¾ to mix with the ricotta cheese and eggs and ¼ for the top
- 1 12-ounce package ziti, penne, fusilli, or casarecce I use Jovial gluten-free.
- 4 cups grated mozzarella cheese
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Boil well-salted water and cook the pasta until it is just under done.
- Mix the ricotta cheese with ¾ cup of grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano and 2 eggs.
- Put a scant layer of meat sauce in the bottom of the baking dish to keep the pasta from sticking.
- Add just over ⅓ of the pasta in a single layer. Add a generous layer of meat sauce. Spread ½ of the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with grated mozzarella cheese.
- Repeat the last instruction once more.
- Put the remaining pasta, meat sauce, and mozzarella on top, then sprinkle the ¼ cup Parmiggiano-Reggiano over.
- Place it in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until it is bubbly and golden on top.
- Remove from the oven and allow it to set for about 15 minutes.