What I chose to make as the main dish was Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage and serve it with a good bread, green salad, steamed broccoli and a bottle of King Estates 2006 Oregon Pinot Noir. Although I don't drink wine because I get migraines my husband and his brothers love this stuff and we know those Spaniards love their wine.
I found this recipe to be so easy to make and had just the right amount of cheesy goodness and a spicy zing to it from the sweet hot Italian sausage. It is definitely a keeper.
- 1 lb. sweet and hot Italian sausages, casings removed
- 12 ounces whole milk ricotta cheese (about 1½ cups)
- 4 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- salt and ground black pepper
- 12 ounces fresh whole milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 3 cups)
- 3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1½ cups)
- 1½ lbs ziti or other short, tubular pasta
- 4½ cups Marinara Sauce or jarred tomato sauce
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves (for serving)
- Bring 6 quarts of water to boil in a large pot over high heat.
- Meanwhile, cook sausage in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, breaking the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon, until the sausage loses its raw color, about 5 minutes. Drain the sausage on a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.
- Mix ricotta cheese, 2 Tbs. of the olive oil, ½ tsp. salt, and ½ tsp. pepper together; set aside. In a separate bowl, toss the mozzarella and Parmesan together until combined; set aside.
- Add 1½ Tbs. salt and the pasta to the boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Reserve 1½ cups of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta. Return the drained pasta to the pot and stir in the marinara sauce, sausage, remaining 2 Tbs. oil and reserved pasta cooking water.
- Pour half of the sauced pasta into a 13x9-inch baking dish. Drop large spoonfuls of the ricotta mixture evenly over the pasta, then pour the remaining sauced pasta over the ricotta layer. Sprinkle the top of the ziti evenly with the mozzarella mixture.
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400°F. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil that has been sprayed with vegetable oil spray (or use nonstick foil). Bake until the sauce bubbled lightly around the edges, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until pasta is completely heated through, 25 to 30 minutes longer. Sprinkle with basil before serving.
*If you'd like to make this dish ahead, wrap the prepared casserole with plastic wrap and then foil, and refrigerate for up to 2 days or freeze for up to one month. (If frozen, the casserole must be thawed completely in the refrigerator, about 24 hours, before baking). Be sure to remove the plastic wrap.
*You can also divide this meal into two 8x8-inch casserole dishes (each will serve 4). Eat one and freeze one!