Baked Ziti

300g / 10oz ziti or penne pasta (Note 1)
1 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small onion (brown, white or yellow), finely chopped
500g / 1 lb ground beef or pork OR 50/50 combo (Note 2)
700g / 24 oz tomato passata (pureed tomato, Note 3)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp EACH dried basil, oregano, sugar
1 cup ricotta , optional (Note 4)
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese (or other melting cheese)
1 cup parmesan , freshly grated (optional)
Finely chopped parsley or basil (optional garnish)

Seasonings:
2 tsp fennel seeds (optional, Note 5)
1 tbsp paprika (plain or sweet)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper OR 3/4 tsp chilli flakes (adjust to taste)
2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp EACH salt and black pepper

Cook ziti for the recommended cooking time on the packet MINUS 2 minutes. (Note 5) Drain, then return to pot.

Preheat oven to 180C/350F.

Make Sauce: Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add onion and garlic and cook for 2 minutes or until onion is translucent.

Add meat and cook, breaking it up as you go. When it is just cooked, add Seasonings and cook for 2 minutes.

Add passata, water, basil, oregano and sugar. Bring to simmer, reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper to taste (remember it gets spread across lots of pasta).

Toss Ziti with Sauce: Pour about 2 cups of sauce into the pot with the ziti. Toss.

Assemble: Spread ziti into baking dish (23x33cm / 9×13″). Dollop with ricotta. Pour over remaining sauce. Top with cheese and parmesan.

Bake: Cover loosely with foil. Bake 20 minutes. Remove foil, bake further 10 to 15 minutes until cheese is golden.

Serve: Sprinkle with parsley or basil if desired, then serve!

Notes:
1. Ziti – Penne and ziti are the same shape, but ziti is smooth whereas penne has ridges. If you can’t find Ziti, use penne or other pastas of similar shape such as rigatoni, spirals or even macaroni.

2. Meat – My favourite is 50/50 beef and pork (used in video) but I usually make this with all beef or all pork.

3. Tomato passata is called Tomato Puree in America. It is just plain, pureed tomato. It is NOT tomato paste which is sour, concentrated tomato. It creates a thicker smoother sauce than using crushed canned tomatoes.

Substitute: Use 800g (28oz) can crushed tomato + 2 tbsp tomato paste. Or use a blender to puree canned tomatoes, or you use store bought plain pasta sauce (Marinara) instead or what’s called Tomato Sauce in America (which is passata with a small amount of seasonings).

4. Ricotta – optional. For a try Baked Ziti experience the classic American way, include it! Ensure you use a creamy ricotta not dry crumbly one. If crumbly, make it creamier using milk or cream.

5. Fennel is an essential seasoning in real Italian sausages. If you don’t like it / have it, this can be skipped.

6. Make ahead / storage: The best way is to cook the pasta, toss in a bit of oil then let it cool. Cook sauce then cool covered. Then assemble per recipe, stop with cheese, refrigerate or freeze. If frozen, defrost for 24 hours in the fridge. Then bake for around 30 – 35 minutes, being 25 minutes covered and 10 minutes uncovered (takes a bit longer when cooked from cold).

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