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Nicole’s Best Baked Ziti

Nicole’s Best Baked Ziti: A Culinary Masterpiece

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Welcome to a journey into the heart of Italian-American comfort food with Nicole’s Best Baked Ziti. This iconic dish, brimming with savory ground sirloin, zesty Italian sausage, and a trio of cheeses, promises a symphony of flavors that will transport you straight to Nonna’s kitchen. Join us as we unravel the secrets to crafting this culinary masterpiece, perfect for family gatherings, Sunday dinners, or any occasion that calls for a touch of indulgence.

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Ingredients

– Meat

  • 3/4 lb Ground sirloin
  • 3/4 lb Italian sausage, ground

– Produce

  • 1 tbsp Basil, fresh
  • 2 cloves Garlic
  • 1 tbsp Italian parsley, fresh
  • 1 Onion, small

– Refrigerated

  • 1 Egg, large

– Condiments

  • 2 (24 ounce) jars Marinara sauce

– Pasta & Grains

  • 1 (16 ounce) package Ziti pasta

– Baking & Spices

  • 1 1/3 tbsp Kosher salt
  • 3/4 tsp Pepper, ground
  • 1/4 tsp Red pepper flakes

– Dairy

  • 1 1/2 (8 ounce) packages Mozzarella cheese
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 (15 ounce) container Whole milk ricotta cheese

– Liquids

  • 1/2 cup Water

Instructions

1. Preheat the Oven

Begin by preheating your oven to 375°F (190°C). Grease a large baking dish and set aside.

2. Sauté Aromatics

In a large skillet, sauté finely chopped onion, garlic, and fresh basil until aromatic. Add ground sirloin and Italian sausage, breaking them into crumbles. Cook until browned.

3. Prepare the Sauce

Pour in the marinara sauce, stirring to combine. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Allow the sauce to simmer for 15-20 minutes, letting the flavors meld.

4. Cook the Ziti

While the sauce simmers, cook the ziti pasta according to package instructions. Aim for al dente, as the pasta will continue cooking in the oven.

5. Prepare the Cheese Mixture

In a separate bowl, combine ricotta, half of the mozzarella, and half of the Parmesan. Stir in an egg to create a creamy cheese mixture.

6. Assemble the Layers

Layering is key for a perfect baked ziti. Begin with a ladle of sauce at the bottom of the baking dish, followed by a layer of cooked ziti. Add dollops of the cheese mixture, creating a decadent stratum.

7. Repeat and Finish

Continue layering, finishing with a generous layer of sauce and a sprinkle of mozzarella and Parmesan. Add water to the edges of the dish to prevent drying during baking.

8. Bake to Perfection

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 15-20 minutes until bubbly and golden.

9. Let it Rest

Allow the baked ziti to rest for 10 minutes before serving. This step ensures the flavors meld and the dish holds its shape when served.

Cook Notes

  • Experiment with different types of Italian sausage for a personalized flavor profile.
  • For a shortcut, you can use store-bought marinara sauce, but consider enhancing it with additional herbs and spices.

Variations

Veggie Delight

Incorporate sautéed vegetables like bell peppers, mushrooms, or spinach between the layers for added texture and nutrition.

Meat Lover’s Dream

Add diced pepperoni or cooked and crumbled bacon to the meat sauce for an extra punch of flavor.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Can I make this ahead and refrigerate before baking?

A: Absolutely! Prepare the ziti up to the point of baking, cover, and refrigerate. When ready to enjoy, bake according to the instructions.

Q: Can I freeze leftovers?

A: Certainly! Portion leftovers into individual servings and freeze for future easy meals. Reheat in the oven or microwave.

Q: Can I use a different type of pasta?

A: While ziti is traditional, feel free to experiment with other pasta shapes like penne or rigatoni.

Q: How can I make this dish spicy?

A: Increase the amount of red pepper flakes or add a dash of hot sauce to the meat sauce for a spicy kick.

Keto and Low-Carb Versions

Cauliflower Comfort

Replace the ziti with cauliflower or shirataki noodles for a low-carb version.

Cheese Crust Sensation

For a keto twist, melt extra mozzarella on top during the final minutes of baking for a cheesy crust.

From Nicole’s Kitchen to Yours

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In conclusion, Nicole’s Best Baked Ziti is not just a recipe; it’s a culinary journey that captures the essence of homely Italian-American goodness. The combination of rich meats, savory sauce, and a triumvirate of cheeses creates a dish that’s more than the sum of its parts. As you savor each bite, let the flavors transport you to a kitchen filled with laughter, warmth, and the unmistakable aroma of a classic baked ziti. So, roll up your sleeves, gather your ingredients, and let Nicole’s kitchen secrets become a cherished tradition in your home. Buon appetito!

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