I doubt this recipe anything close to authentic Italian, but I love this casserole because a) it’s really easy to make; b) it’s inexpensive to make; and c) because I can get at least two dinners out of one casserole plus lunches for a few days from the leftovers and we just about can’t get more frugal than that! When I made it in the past I used to add a pound of turkey Italian sausage to bump up the flavor and protein, but these days leave it out.
While it does contain dairy in the form of cheese, this dish fits in perfectly with our current way of eating. The recipe serves 8, but even then it was fairly low calorie and still very filling: true comfort food.
BAKED ZITI CASSEROLE
- 12 – 16 ounces ziti or penne pasta
- 1 24 – 26 ounce jar of commercial marinara sauce
- 1 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes with garlic & basil
- 1 pound Italian sausage, cooked until crumbled and well-drained (optional)
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 8 ounces grated mozzarella or Italian-blend cheese
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cook the pasta in a large pot according to package directions. While the pasta is cooking, in another saucepan heat together the jar of spaghetti sauce and the can of diced tomatoes (and cooked sausage if you’re including it). When the pasta is cooked to al dente, drain it well and then return to its cooking pot. Remove half of the spaghetti sauce mixture and set aside, than add all the ricotta cheese to the remaining sauce and blend well (leaving no lumps of ricotta). Add the sauce and cheese mixture to the pasta and blend to coat all the pasta.
Place half the pasta mixture in a well-oiled 9×13 baking pan. Top with half of the grated cheese, then layer the rest of the pasta mixture over the grated cheese. Cover the top of the casserole with the remaining spaghetti sauce mixture and finally cover with the remaining grated cheese. Cover the pan with foil and bake for 40 minutes. After removing from the oven, let the casserole sit for at least 20 minutes before cutting and serving.