Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Italian Sausage

By 8 m read

Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Italian Sausage (Photo by Viana Boenzli)
(Photo by Viana Boenzli)

Baked ziti with ricotta and Italian sausage. It tastes best while it’s snowing outside. It tastes even better when making it with three kinds of cheese: Ricotta for a creamy texture that mingles with the tomato sauce. Mozzarella to create those magical gooey globs that make you smile when they’re still attached to the plate while your fork is already reaching your mouth. And, of course, Parmesan, the king of cheeses. And the best thing: it tastes even better the next day. 

 

So make a big batch. Maybe it’s not the time to mingle with friends these days, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make friends with your baked ziti over a couple of evenings. Baked ziti with Italian sausage is comfort food to fall in love with all over again.  

 

Call me strange, but when it comes to tomatoes, I’m a bit particular. In summer, when our homegrown tomatoes (or sometimes store-bought) are at their peak, I’ll eat them raw. Tons of them. For a couple of months each year, I eat fresh tomatoes with and on everything. Sometimes I even grill them. Throughout the rest of the year, I buy 28-oz cans of whole peeled plum tomatoes to make sauces.

 

So, for the sauce for baked ziti, you have two options: 

       a) Use a good red tomato sauce ready to go from a jar

       or

       b) Use a can of whole peeled plum tomatoes, spruced up with some butter, garlic, shallots, pepper flakes, and dried herbs (recipe below).

Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Italian Sausage (Photo by Viana Boenzli)
(Photo by Viana Boenzli)

How to cook pasta

What’s the biggest hassle of making baked pasta? Yep, cooking the pasta first before adding it to the baking dish. 

 

But aren’t we cooking the pasta twice this way? Why not just add the uncooked pasta to the baking dish and in the oven we go?

 

Dried pasta is made of flour. In other words, starch and protein. To become soft, they need to absorb water. A lot of water. Notice the weight when you put your dried pasta into a boiling pot of water and the weight after draining the pasta in the colander. It’s nearly doubled. Dried pasta needs to absorb about 80% percent of its weight to become perfectly al dente. That’s a lot of water, and that’s a lot of sauce if you put raw pasta into your baking dish.

 

But who said you have to cook pasta in boiling water to get ready for the baking dish?

 

Instead, you can soak your dried pasta in warm salted water for about 30 minutes before draining and adding it to your baking dish.

 

Mise en place (putting in place)

It looks like this dish has quite a few steps and pots and pans involved. Although that’s true, they’re all straightforward and forgiving if the timing isn’t perfect. And once the ziti is in the oven, you’ll have plenty of time to clean up the kitchen before serving this comfy, delicious, cheesy ”holy-moly-that’s-great-stuff” dish. 

 

Let’s get started. Like with all cooking, gather all your equipment and ingredients. Dice and mince shallots and garlic, take the sausage meat out of the casing, and open the tomato cans. Preheat the oven to 400°F with the rack placed in the middle. 

 

Get used to doing this whenever you cook. It’s called “mise en place” (from the French for “putting in place”). It will free up your mind to focus on cooking without foraging and preparing ingredients while the food is getting overcooked.

 

The sausage

Remove the sausage meat from the casing and cook in a little bit of oil in a frying pan over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to break the clumps apart. 

Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Italian Sausage (Photo by Viana Boenzli)
(Photo by Viana Boenzli)

Set aside. It’s okay if some smaller chunks remain. It gives the dish a nice, uneven texture, which I love in baked pasta dishes.

 

The pasta

Pour 1 lb of ziti into a large bowl and fill it up with warm water until all the pasta is covered with water by an inch or so. Add salt (just as you would when boiling pasta in a pot). Let sit for about 30 minutes. Stir once or twice so the pasta won’t stick together. 

Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Italian Sausage (Photo by Viana Boenzli)
(Photo by Viana Boenzli)

You’ll notice that the pasta will be less than al dente (firm to the bite), and that’s perfect. The oven will do the rest of the cooking. Drain and set aside. 

 

The sauce

Heat 3 Tbsp butter and 3 Tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan until the butter has melted. Adjust the heat. You don’t want the butter to brown, just a light sizzle. Add about 1-1/2 c diced shallots (or onion) and cook for 3 minutes until they become soft. Stir occasionally and season with 1/4 tsp kosher salt and 1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper. Add 1 Tbsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves), 1 Tbsp dried oregano, and 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes. Cook and stir for one minute. Add a 28-oz can of peeled whole plum tomatoes and a 15-oz can of tomato sauce. Bring to a boil, give a good stir, reduce heat, and let simmer for 30 minutes. While it’s simmering, occasionally break up the tomatoes using a wooden spoon or tongs.

Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Italian Sausage (Photo by Viana Boenzli)
(Photo by Viana Boenzli)

After 30 minutes, taste, season to your liking, and taste again. The tomato sauce is the heart of this dish. You want to make sure it tastes the way you like it. If you prefer a different dried herb, use it. 

 

The assembly 

This is going to be a lot of food. It barely fits in a 9×13-in baking dish. Therefore, it’s vital that you mix the ingredients before adding them to the baking dish or your counter will look like a crime scene from Goodfellas. 

Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Italian Sausage (Photo by Viana Boenzli)
(Photo by Viana Boenzli)

If your saucepan is big enough, use it. If not, use a large bowl. Combine tomato sauce, pasta, sausage meat, add half the chopped Italian parsley, half the cubed mozzarella, half the finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and all of the ricotta. Stir nice and easy to mix everything very well. Here’s another chance to taste. Pour into the baking dish. I told you it’s a lot of food. 

 

The baking

Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake on the middle rack for 45 minutes. Remove, top with the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan, and bake uncovered for another 15 minutes. 

Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Italian Sausage (Photo by Viana Boenzli)
(Photo by Viana Boenzli)

Before serving, sprinkle with the rest of the Italian parsley. 

 

Serve and make some friends very happy for a night or enjoy it for the whole week. 

Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Italian Sausage (Photo by Viana Boenzli)
(Photo by Viana Boenzli)

Looking for more delicious dinner ideas? Check out a few more of our recipes now:

 

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Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Italian Sausage (Photo by Viana Boenzli)

Baked Ziti with Ricotta and Italian Sausage

Baked ziti with ricotta and Italian sausage. It tastes the best while it’s snowing outside. It tastes even better when making it with three kinds of cheese.
Prep Time 30 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr 15 mins
Servings 6 servings

Ingredients
  

  • 1 lb sweet Italian sausage, removed from the casing
  • 1 lb ziti (or any other tubular pasta)
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1-1/2 c diced shallots (or onion)
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 28-oz can peeled whole plum tomatoes
  • 15-oz can tomato sauce
  • 12 oz whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 lb whole milk mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2” cubes
  • 3.5 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1 bunch (1/2 c) chopped flat leaf Italian parsley

Instructions
 

Pasta

  • Either cook and drain pasta as usual OR soak your dried pasta in warm salted water for about 30 minutes before draining and adding it to your baking dish.
  • To soak pasta, pour 1 lb of ziti into a large bowl and fill it up with warm water until all the pasta is covered with water by an inch or so. Add salt (just as you would when boiling pasta in a pot). Let sit for about 30 minutes. Stir once or twice so the pasta won’t stick together. Then drain in a colander.

Sausage

  • Remove the sausage meat from the casing and cook in a little bit of oil in a frying pan over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Use a wooden spoon to break the clumps apart. 

Sauce

  • Heat 3 Tbsp butter and 3 Tbsp olive oil in a large saucepan until the butter has melted. Adjust the heat. You don’t want the butter to brown, just a light sizzle. 
  • Add about 1-1/2 c diced shallots (or onion) and cook for 3 minutes until they become soft. 
  • Stir occasionally and season with 1/4 tsp kosher salt and 1/4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper. 
  • Add 1 Tbsp minced garlic (about 2 cloves), 1 Tbsp dried oregano, and 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes. 
  • Cook and stir for one minute. 
  • Add a 28-oz can of peeled whole plum tomatoes and a 15-oz can of tomato sauce. 
  • Bring to a boil, give a good stir, reduce heat, and let simmer for 30 minutes. While it’s simmering, occasionally break up the tomatoes using a wooden spoon or tongs.
  • After 30 minutes, taste, season to your liking, and taste again. 

Putting it all together

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F with the rack placed in the middle. 
  • If your saucepan is big enough, use it. If not, use a large bowl. Combine tomato sauce, pasta, sausage meat, add half the chopped Italian parsley, half the cubed mozzarella, half the finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and all of the ricotta. 
  • Stir nice and easy to mix everything very well and pour into 9 x 13" baking dish.
  • Cover the baking dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake on the middle rack for 45 minutes.
  • Remove, top with the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan, and bake uncovered for another 15 minutes. 
  • Before serving, sprinkle with the rest of the Italian parsley. Enjoy!

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4 Comments
  • Jess
    January 22, 2021

    This looks so delish! I love a good ziti recipe!

  • Lillie
    January 23, 2021

    Looks so yummy! Will be trying this out on Friday. Thanks for sharing!