This casserole is more than your standard baked ziti!
Deluxe Baked Ziti: Food For The Soul
Baked ziti doesn’t have to be drab and ordinary! This recipe proves it!
This casserole has a very interesting topping and that’s what makes it totally awesome.
This recipe, of course, is a bit more involved than throwing some store-bought sauce over cooked pasta and baking it. First, it uses a delicious and chunky homemade sauce. It’s also got three cheeses for added flavor.
The Sauce Makes It Special
Sure you can use a high-quality store-bought sauce, but why bother when from-scratch is very easy and tastes so much better?
I think the chunky bits of tomato add so much to the sauce and to the casserole itself. It’s not really a “chew factor,” but more of an interesting texture.
The onions are chopped a little more coarsely so you can actually see them in the sauce. The chunks of tomato and the coarsely chopped onion give the sauce a rustic factor. Actually, I believe baked ziti is a rustic meal, so the sauce really fits the dish.
I prefer a sweeter sauce, hence I add brown sugar. However, if you don’t like your sauce on the sweet side, then leave it out. If you are not sure, then leave it out and taste the sauce after it’s done. You can always add it in the end if you want a bit of sweetness.
Oh That Topping!
The topping is the absolute best thing about this baked ziti.
You’ve got two cheeses (and you can pile it on here–use more if you want!) and Panko bread crumbs to add some crunch.
Removing the foil and baking for the extra 10-15 minutes even crisps the cheese and the total effect is pure heaven!
So make sure everyone gets some of that topping on their serving!
- 8 oz ziti (uncooked) or any similar shaped tubular pasta
- 2 cups mozzarella, cut in small cubes (about ¼-inch)
- ¼ cup Parmesan or Romano cheese
- 1 lb ground beef, browned and drained
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella
- ½ cup shredded Parmesan
- ¼ cup Romano cheese
- ½ cup Panko bread crumbs
- 28 oz can petit diced tomatoes
- 15 oz can tomato sauce
- 6 oz can tomato paste
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbs basil
- 1 tbs oregano
- 2 tbs brown sugar (see NOTES)
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 2 tbs olive oil
- Sauce—In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and cook until aromatic—about 3 minutes. stir in the tomato paste and cook until tomato paste bubbles and it’s color gets a bit darker, about 5 minutes.
- Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Cook pasta per package directions; drain.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray a 13 x 9-inch baking dish.
- Mix pasta, sauce, ground beef, cubed mozzarella and Romano cheese in a large bowl; blend well. Turn mixture into prepared pan.
- Place the topping ingredients evenly over the top of the casserole. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove foil and bake an additional 10-15 minutes, or until cheeses begin to brown and top is crispy.