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Crowd-Pleasing Baked Ziti

Crowd-Pleasing Baked Ziti: Easy, Cheesy & Meaty Recipe

healty meal, low carbs meals, keto meal

Baked ziti is a classic comfort food that never fails to satisfy. With its layers of pasta, savory meat, gooey cheese, and rich tomato sauce, it’s a dish that appeals to both kids and adults alike. Whether you’re feeding a hungry family or hosting a casual gathering with friends, this crowd-pleasing baked ziti recipe is sure to be a hit. In this blog post, we’ll guide you through the steps to create a delicious, cheesy, and meaty baked ziti that will have everyone coming back for seconds.

Ingredients

  • Meat:
    • 1 lb Ground meat
    • 1 lb Italian sausage, ground
  • Produce:
    • 8 Garlic cloves, minced
    • 1 Green pepper, small, diced
    • 1 Yellow onion, small, diced
  • Condiments:
    • 1 (25 oz) jar Pasta sauce
  • Pasta & Grains:
    • 1 box Ziti pasta
  • Baking & Spices:
    • 4 tsp Salt
    • 3 tsp Black pepper
    • 2 tsp Italian seasoning
    • 3 tsp Powdered garlic
    • 1 tsp Onion powder
    • 2 tsp Sugar
  • Dairy:
    • 1/4 cup Heavy cream
    • 3 cups Mozzarella cheese, shredded
    • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
    • 16 oz Ricotta cheese
  • Produce:
    • 4 tbsp Fresh basil, chopped
    • 1 Red pepper, small, diced
    • 1 (28 oz) can Tomatoes, diced or crushed

Instructions

  1. Preheat Oven: Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C) and grease a 9×13-inch baking dish with cooking spray or butter.
  2. Cook Pasta: Cook the ziti pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Drain and set aside.
  3. Prepare Meat Mixture: In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the ground meat and Italian sausage until browned and cooked through, breaking it apart with a spoon as it cooks. Drain any excess grease.
  4. Saute Aromatics: In the same skillet, add the diced onions, diced green pepper, minced garlic, and diced red pepper. Cook until the vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add Sauce and Tomatoes: Pour the jar of pasta sauce and the canned tomatoes (with their juices) into the skillet with the cooked vegetables. Stir to combine.
  6. Season: Add the salt, black pepper, Italian seasoning, powdered garlic, onion powder, and sugar to the sauce mixture. Stir well and let it simmer for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld together.
  7. Add Pasta and Cream: Once the sauce is ready, add the cooked ziti pasta to the skillet along with the heavy cream. Stir until the pasta is evenly coated with the sauce.
  8. Layer Cheeses: In the prepared baking dish, spread half of the pasta mixture evenly. Top with half of the shredded mozzarella cheese, half of the grated Parmesan cheese, and half of the ricotta cheese. Repeat the layers with the remaining pasta and cheeses.
  9. Bake: Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
  10. Finish: Remove the foil and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until the cheese is golden brown and bubbly.
  11. Garnish and Serve: Garnish the baked ziti with chopped fresh basil before serving. Let it cool for a few minutes, then serve hot.

Cook Notes and Variations

  • Make it Spicy: Add crushed red pepper flakes to the sauce mixture for a spicy kick.
  • Add Vegetables: Feel free to add more vegetables such as mushrooms, spinach, or zucchini to the sauce for added flavor and nutrition.
  • Make it Ahead: You can assemble the baked ziti ahead of time and refrigerate it, covered, until ready to bake. Just be sure to increase the baking time if baking from cold.

Keto and Low-Carb Versions

  • Keto Version: For a keto-friendly version, substitute the ziti pasta with zucchini noodles or shirataki noodles. Use sugar-free pasta sauce and opt for full-fat cheeses. Skip the sugar in the sauce and reduce the onion and garlic to lower the carb content.
  • Low-Carb Version: Similarly, for a low-carb version, replace the ziti pasta with spiralized vegetables such as spaghetti squash or use a low-carb pasta alternative. Reduce the amount of onion and garlic in the sauce to lower the carb count.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Can I use ground turkey instead of ground meat? A: Yes, you can use ground turkey or chicken as a leaner alternative to ground beef.

Q: Can I freeze baked ziti? A: Yes, baked ziti freezes well. Allow it to cool completely, then wrap it tightly in aluminum foil or plastic wrap and place it in a freezer-safe container. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating in the oven.

Q: Can I use different types of cheese? A: Absolutely! Feel free to experiment with different cheeses such as provolone, fontina, or Asiago for added flavor.

Q: Can I make this vegetarian? A: Yes, simply omit the ground meat and Italian sausage and bulk up the dish with additional vegetables or meat substitutes such as mushrooms or vegetarian sausage crumbles.

Indulge in the ultimate comfort food with this crowd-pleasing baked ziti recipe. With its layers of tender pasta, savory meat, tangy tomato sauce, and melty cheese, it’s a dish that’s sure to satisfy even the pickiest eaters. Whether you’re hosting a family dinner or a casual get-together with friends, this easy and delicious recipe is guaranteed to be a hit. So gather your ingredients, preheat your oven, and get ready to enjoy a hearty and comforting meal that’s perfect for any occasion.

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