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Sunday, January 8, 2012

Frank's Infamous Baked Ziti

Most people have a recipe or two up their sleeve that is a no-fail, go-to kind of dish. These are the kind of dishes that when you have to come up with something to take to a party, or event, or you have people over for a dinner and have to find something that would be a sure-fire hit, or you use as payment to friends for doing something for you, you can count on to fulfill the purpose. 

Anyone that knows me well, knows about my baked ziti. I use it whenever I need a quick dinner, a quick gift, or for a quick party dish. Heck, I've even sold it a la carte as a catering situation. I can prep it up to the point of baking, and freeze it. I can also cut it into squares and freeze for quick meal portions, at a later time. It can be paired with some garlic or cheesy bread and a nice salad for a full meal. 

I don't really use a recipe; I just used some of the basics of the dish, and made tweaks here and there. Honestly, I don't think I make it exactly the same way every time. But, out of a request once, I sat and tried to write down what goes in it. I thought I would share it with you. 

Frank’s Baked Ziti

1 lb. ziti
1 lb. sausage (you can use Italian, if you prefer)
2 reg. size jars of marinara/pasta sauce of your choice
~ 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, minced (or minced white onion) (optional)
Red wine or a fortified cooking wine (ie: Madeira, Marsala, Sherry) (optional)
Dried thyme
Dried oregano
Dried basil
Red pepper flakes (optional)
1 lb. shredded mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese
Italian seasoning

1. Cook the ziti in boiling, salted water for about 10-12 minutes. Test it, it should  
 be al dente.

2. Brown the sausage in a tiny amount of olive oil. Chop it up really well while it is cooking. When it is about halfway done, add the minced garlic (and shallot/onion) and cook the rest of the way, over medium high heat. You do not want the garlic to get dark, or burn. (Burnt garlic tastes very bitter!)

3. OPTIONAL: Turn heat to high, and add a little bit of red (or fortified) wine to deglaze the pan. Let it cook until the wine is basically evaporated away, or absorbed. This step adds flavor, and a sweetness to counteract the acidity of the tomato sauce. It provides a nice balance, and good cooking is all about balance of flavors. If you choose not to use the wine, add about a tablespoon of sugar.

4. Empty the jars of marinara/sauce into the pan. Turn the stove down to between low and medium.

5. Add in a couple pinches of basil, a pinch of oregano, and a pinch of thyme. Add in salt and pepper.  If you want, add some red pepper flakes. Do not add too many if you don’t want it very spicy. They will intensify in heat the longer it simmers, to a certain point.  Let the sauce simmer for about 10-15 min. Taste periodically to see if you need to add anything else. Often, if time allows, I will allow the sauce to simmer for an hour; this will cause no harm, and only intensify and deepen the flavors.

6. Mix the ziti into the sauce, and pour into a decent size baking pan, or casserole dish.

7. Top with the mozzarella, and sprinkle with Parmesan and a little bit of Italian seasoning.

8. Put into a 350ยบ oven for about 20-25 minutes, if straight off the stovetop. If you stop and put it into the refrigerator, or freezer, thaw it and put it into the oven, foil-covered for 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15-20 minutes to brown the cheese.

9. Portion out leftovers and freeze for another meal.

Serve with a nice, fresh salad, bread, and a glass of red wine of your choice! 


  1. Sounds yummy, Frank. I'll have to try this sometime. :) Jo Anne J.

  2. Great recipe, something easy to feed a group. Thanks!

  3. Sooo... what is everyone else's "go-to" dish?