For those of you who read my food columns regularly, you probably know by now my family loves pasta.
While we all would prefer baked lasagna, stuffed shells and homemade sauce, they love pasta so much they never even seem to complain if I just whip up a box of spaghetti with a jar of store-bought sauce.
No doubt many of you will relate to how the latter can come in handy when mom has failed to plan ahead and the family rolls in after a Little League baseball game at 8:30 p.m. with everyone tired and hungry.
Baked ziti is an easy, one-dish meal that will feed a hungry, pasta-loving family and allow for leftovers.
Recently I stumbled across a new quick pasta meal that is incredibly easy and can be prepared in less than 10 minutes and can be ready in about an hour, including cooking time. The best part is, you don't have to boil the noodles, so you dirty only one pan.
Here's how easy it is: First, you simply mix everything up in one big bowl. Then you transfer it carefully into a casserole dish. Use a big spoon - don't attempt to pour it or you're likely to make a mess. Then cover it tightly with foil. Make sure to run your fingers over top the foil at the edge of the casserole dish to ensure it's sealed. Then bake. That's basically it.
If you want to spice it up a bit, and you don't mind dirtying another pan, you also could brown some chopped onions, ground sausage or ground beef to add to the mixture before baking (drain it first). Or try adding some shredded pepper jack cheese to give it some kick.
1 32-oz jar or homemade pasta sauce
2 cups of water
1 teaspoon ground oregano
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon ground basil
3 tablespoons grated romano or parmesan cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 box uncooked ziti or penne pasta
Combine pasta sauce and water in a large bowl. Stir in oregano, garlic salt, basil and romano or parmesan cheese. Mix well. Add ricotta cheese and continue to stir well until the ricotta is broken up and not "lumpy." Then slowly stir the uncooked pasta into the mixture. Stir it well. Spray a 13" x 9" casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray. Transfer the pasta/sauce mixture into the casserole dish. Cover tightly with foil. Bake at 400 degrees for about 50 minutes. Uncover, stir carefully and top with shredded mozzarella cheese. Return to over uncovered for about 10 minutes. Let stand for another 10 minutes and serve.
I also found that saving the leftovers for a few days in the fridge worked out well, too, even with a family that generally turns up their noses at leftovers. It was great for after-school snacks, and I even packed it in my lunch box for great workday meals.
Email me with your suggestions for variations on this quick, easy and delicious dish. I'd love to share your suggestions with our readers.