Growing up in New Jersey, I was surrounded by Italians. Literally surrounded. Three Catholic churches in our small town, 4 or 5 Italian restaurants in a 1/4-mile distance (keep in mind, there is just one traffic light downtown!) and last names like Pagnani and Martorana galore! Living around so many Italians meant lots of Italian food at community and school parties, specifically baked ziti. Baked ziti is to New Jersey as funeral potatoes are to Utah.
Needless to say, I ate some really delicious baked ziti growing up. Which makes it all the more disappointing that almost every time I’ve tried to make it, it just isn’t up to snuff. Well, I tried a recipe from my Real Simple | Best Recipes cookbook and I’ve finally found my winning ziti recipe! Woohoo! Move over, Italian mamas from New Jersey.
In case you are wondering, the recipe is also really easy to make. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
- 12 ounces ziti, cooked to package directions (for some reason my grocery store did not have ziti, so I used penne)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ⅓ onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped or pushed through garlic press
- ½ pound lean ground beef or italian sausage
- salt and pepper
- 1 26-ounce jar marinara sauce (I had a bunch of No-Cook Pizza Sauce left over and that made up the bulk of my sauce, with some leftover jarred sauce to make up the difference. The sauce was delicious!)
- 1 bunch or 1 small bag spinach, thick stems removed (about 4 cups)
- ½ cup ricotta cheese
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese (I did more than 1 cup…probably about 1½ or so)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Drain cooked pasta and add it back to the pot.
- Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Cook onion until soft and clear (4-5 minutes), then add garlic and cook about 1 minute more. Add the beef, ¾ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, breaking up the meat, until the meat is cooked through.
- Pour meat mixture into large pot of drained pasta. Add sauce, spinach, ricotta and ¼ cup of the Parmesan cheese. Transfer to a 9×13 casserole dish. Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and ¼ cup Parmesan cheese. Bake until ziti is hot all the way through and cheese is melted, about 15 minutes.