Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Baked Ziti

This is my own recipe and though I've made it for years, I've never really measured anything BUT because I thought I might need to share it, I decided to make notes as I made it so I've got it down as to exactly how I make it.

The key to making great meals is fresh ingredients and I more often then not even use fresh herbs but with the snow and cold we've had here this year my herbs aren't looking so good so I did use dried herbs to make this.  I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to use Fresh Mozzarella and NOT the pre-shredded or block form ... believe me, it makes a huge difference in taste ... huge!!!  Fresh Mozzarella is BEST!!!

Another thing, I never ever use jarred "Spaghetti Sauce" ... I always always always make my own ... it just too easy and taste way better then the jarred stuff.  A lot of times my hubby and I will make a huge pot of sauce and then freeze small portions of it.  That way when we are in a hurry and haven't planned a meal, its quick to put in a pot on simmer and reheat, adding whatever cooked meat we want.

And lastly, I use imported pastas from Italy as they are much better then the non-imported brands.  They have minimal ingredients and hold up better when cooked, do not go mushy!

Baked Ziti

1 lb of Ground Beef
1/2 Red Onion, chopped
3 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 tsp Italian Seasoning (or a bit more)
1/4 tsp Fennel
1/4 tsp Savory
Sea Salt and Fresh Ground Pepper, to taste
1 can Tomato Sauce
1 can Diced Tomatoes
1 Tblsp Tomato Paste*
1 Tblsp Grated Parmesan
Handful of Fresh Spinach, optional
12 oz Ziti, uncooked
16 oz Fresh Mozzarella, sliced thinly

Brown the Ground Beef in a splash or two of Extra Virgin Olive Oil until almost browned.  Drain, if needed.  Add the Onions, Garlic, Italian Seasoning, Fennel, Savory and Salt and Pepper with a bit more EVOO and finish browning the Ground Beef.  I don't measure my Salt and Pepper but usually twist both into the sauce 6-7 times (both of mine are in grinders).  I suggest adding a bit of both and then tasting to see if it needs more, remember you can always add more Salt at the table, if needed.

Once Onions are softened up a bit, add the Tomato Sauce, Diced Tomatoes, Tomato Paste and Parmesan, reduce heat to low and simmer for at least 30 minutes but longer makes it better.  I usually simmer mine for an hour or so.

Cook Ziti as directed on package, drain and add to sauce.  Now is time to add handful of Spinach, if desired.  The Spinach doesn't really change the flavor but adds more vitamins and your daily dose of green leafy veggies.

Grease an 8x8 casserole dish.  Pour in enough sauce to cover bottom, cover sauce with slices of Mozzarella, repeat until you get to top and then finish with a layer of cheese.  (Just like making a lasagna)

Cook at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes, until bubbly and cheese is gooey.

* A note about Tomato Paste here ... I rarely, if ever, use a whole can so what I do when I open a can is take out Tablespoons and space them out on a sheet of wax or parchment paper, place a second piece of parchment paper over them, smash down a bit (to flatten), fold them over each other, accordion style, and then place into a freezer bag.  Then I take out what I need as I need it.  It will keep for several months in the freezer.

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