This ziti is one of my favorite dinners. The layers of fresh basil, pasta, tomatoes and spicy italian sausage and three cheeses; ricotta; Parmesan; and fresh mozzarella melt together into a gooey, satisfying, compulsively edible conglomerate. Pair a dish of this creamy, tomato-ey pasta with a caesar salad, crusty bread and a glass of wine and you have the perfect comfort food dinner.
Makes two medium baking dishes or one really large baking dish, about 12 servings
1 pound ziti or penne pasta
1 pound Italian sausage
4 tbsp tomato paste
Red Pepper Flakes
2 14.5-oz cans tomato sauce
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
8-oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 1/2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese
8-oz fresh mozzarella, shredded
Fresh Basil, chiffonade(d)
Salt & Pepper
- Bring a pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Salt the water and boil the pasta until quite al dente. We’re going to bake the pasta, so we don’t want it to be overdone. Drain and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- In a large saute pan or dutch oven, heat a drizzle of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the Italian sausage and cook until browned. Drain off fat if needed.
- Add tomato paste and red pepper flakes and cook for one minute.
- Add the tomato sauce and diced tomatoes, stir to combine. Season with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning to taste. Turn the heat to low. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally.
- Mix the cream cheese, ricotta cheese, and half of the Parmesan together until well combined. Salt and pepper to taste.
- To assemble the ziti, coat the bottom of your baking dishes with a scant layer of the tomato and sausage sauce. Follow up with 1/4 of the cooked pasta, then 1/4 of the ricotta mixture. Sprinkle 1/4 of the fresh mozzarella, and 1/4 of the basil. Repeat with another layer of tomato sauce, then the pasta, ricotta and basil. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Repeat in the second dish.
- Cover the dishes, and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Then, uncover and cook 10 to 15 minutes or until brown and bubbly. Let stand about 10 minutes before dishing up.