kid-friendly · Recipes

Classic Baked Ziti

I dread the onset of winter with its cold, dark, depressing ways, and anyone with little kids can tell you the havoc daylight saving time wreaks on family sleep schedules. We had an oddly warm fall here in New England; it was 70 degrees out Monday, when I started writing this, and as nice as that felt, I’m ready for the casseroles to start showing up again — even if Mother Nature isn’t. I’ve also been ready to dig into hibernation food for months now!

In that spirit, I’ve made this wonderfully simple Baked Ziti a lot this fall, including for potlucks, Sunday dinner, and for friends with new babies.

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This makes the perfect dish for visiting a newborn: it is comforting, filling, and reheats very easily, and can be eaten with one hand while holding a baby. It can also be frozen if your friends don’t have room to eat it right away. As a bonus, little kids like it, too, which is always an implicit goal of any recipe I post! Georgia simply gobbles this up, and it’s one of Mark’s, favorites, too. Win-win.

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This recipe was inspired by Smitten Kitchen with a few adaptations to make it my own.

Cook time: 30 minutes    Serves: 4-6

Classic Baked Ziti

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 pound ziti, cooked al dente
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano or Italian seasoning (I like Wildtree)
  • 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes
  • a few handfuls of baby spinach
  • 1 cup mozzarella, grated
  • 2/3 cup finely grated pecorino (or parmesan) cheese
  • fresh basil slivers
  • optional: red pepper flakes

DIRECTIONS

To start, preheat your oven to 400 F.

Heat a pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta very al dente, or at least 2 minutes less than the normal cooking time stated on the box. Drain the pasta, reserving half a cup of the cooking water.

Heat a large skillet over  medium and add a swirl of olive oil until warm, then add the meat alongside the onion, garlic, seasonings and a healthy dose of salt and pepper over medium-hihg for up to 8 minutes, or until the beef is browned, stirring often.

Add the crushed tomatoes and stir to combine, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for five minutes. Add in the reserved pasta water and then the spinach, cooking until milted (maybe another minute or two). Here, I like to add in some fresh basil, slivered, and maybe a couple fresh tomatoes from my garden if I need to use them up.

Stir in the drained pasta and mix together. Pour half into a 9×13 glass baking dish or lasagna pan, and sprinkle with half the two cheeses; repeat with another half of the pasta then top with the remaining cheese.

Bake in the heated oven for 30 minutes or until nice and crispy and browned on the edges. You can even run the dish under the broiler for a minute if you’d like it extra crispy! Enjoy warm.

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NOTES:

  • You can also use Italian sausage, casings removed, if you prefer the taste.
  • To cook al dente, shave 2 minutes off the cook time stated on the package of pasta. Taking care not to overcook is essential for this not turning mushy!
  • Seasoning the ground beef well with salt and pepper is essential; it’s less important if you opt for Italian sausage.
  • I like to serve this with more slivers of fresh basil and, if you have it, fresh ricotta. But that’s totally optional!
  • I have never tried this week meat substitutes, but it’s certainly possible. Other good substitutions to make it vegetarian would be mushrooms, beans, or lentils.

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Stay tuned for my first holiday shopping guides soon, and some inspiration for Thanksgiving dinner! I’m so excited Christmas is right around the corner. I basically live for the holidays once Halloween is over every year 🙂 Have a lovely, cozy weekend.

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