It feels like Italian week around here. We’ve been eating a lot of pasta lately. This is great if you like leftovers. I put the leftovers into wide-mouth glass pint jars (I always use glass jars, never plastic bowls) and send it to work with Mike for his lunch. It reheats wonderfully.
Prep Time: 20 mins | Cook Time: 45 mins
- 1 Small Box Penne or Ziti Pasta
- 1 Jar Spaghetti Sauce
- 1 Large Can Crushed Tomatoes with Garlic
- 1 Can Diced Tomatoes with Green Chilis
- 1 1/2 Pounds Ground Beef
- 1 Large Onion, Chopped
- 3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
- 2 Cups Ricotta Cheese
- 2 Cups Shredded Mozzarella Cheese, Divided
- 1 Cup Shredded Cheese Blend (4 or 6 Cheese)
- 1/4 Cup Butter (1/2 stick), Soft
- 1 Egg
- 1 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
- 1 Tablespoon Dried Parsley
- 1 Tablespoon Dried Basil
- 1 Teaspoon Dried Thyme
- 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
- 1 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Put pasta on to boil, cook until not quite done. It should still be a little tough. It will finish cooking in the oven and be perfect. If you boil it to well done, it can turn out mushy after baking. Yuck.
While pasta is boiling, peel and chop onions and garlic. Saute in a large nonstick skillet with ground beef until beef is well done. As beef is browning, break it apart with your spatula until you have small bite-sized or smaller chunks.
Once beef is browning, in a large sauce pan, mix together 1 jar of spaghetti sauce, 1 can crushed tomatoes, and 1 can diced tomatoes.
Tip: The spaghetti sauce I use is rather thick straight out of the jar. I don’t drain the diced tomatoes, just pour the juice and tomatoes all into the sauce. It helps loosen up the sauce without making it runny. If your sauce is already thin, drain the diced tomatoes before adding them.
If you like your pasta saucier, you may want to add a second jar of spaghetti sauce or a second can of crushed tomatoes. I always do because I get very annoyed when I order baked ziti in a restaurant and it comes out dry with very little sauce. If you end up with too much sauce, keep the leftovers in your fridge for pizza sauce.
Mix sauce and tomatoes well and simmer over medium low heat until warm.
If your pasta is done, drain and set aside. Now it’s time to make the cheesy filling.
Add the ricotta cheese to a large mixing bowl. Add one cup of the shredded mozzarella cheese and one cup of the shredded cheese blend. Add the soft (not melted, just soft) butter, the raw egg, and the dried spices. Mix well.
To start building the ziti, spray a large lasagna pan with non-stick cooking spray. Add a very small amount of sauce, maybe a half cup, to the bottom of your pan and spread around.
Drain the grease off your ground beef. Add the beef to the lasagna pan in an even layer. Add one-third to one-half of the remaining sauce to your pan, pouring it slowly over the ground beef so it is evenly distributed.
Next add the cheese filling. Drop it by large spoonfuls onto the sauce and beef. Once you have all the cheese filling in the pan, you can push it around gently with your fingers and pat it down to fill any holes so you have a somewhat even layer of cheese.
Now you want to add your drained pasta directly on top of the cheese mixture. Make an even layer of pasta. Add the remaining sauce over the top of the pasta. Then sprinkle the remaining cup of shredded mozzarella and shredded cheese blend over the top of the sauce.
Bake uncovered in your oven at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes.
Creamy Baked Macaroni & Cheese
(Prep time 30-45 min. Bake time 45 min.)
- 2 – 8 oz bricks Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese (16 oz total), shredded
- 1 – 8 oz brick Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
- 1 Cup shredded cheese blend (I use Mexican but 4 or 6 cheese blend will work)
- 4 1/2 Cups uncooked elbow macaroni
- 1/2 small onion, finely diced
- 3 Tablespoons butter
- 5 Tablespoons flour
- 5 Cups milk
- 1 Teaspoon salt
- 2 Teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1/2 sleeve of Saltine Crackers, crushed (10-15 crackers)
Shred all cheeses, place near your stove-top
Chop half of a small onion until it is finely diced
Crush saltines into uneven rough crumbs and chunks, set aside
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
Boil macaroni until almost done (it should be plumped up but just shy of al-dente). It will finish cooking in the oven. Drain water and put cooked macaroni in a large oven-safe casserole dish or dutch oven and set aside. You can put a small amount of butter in it to keep it from sticking together, or just boil your macaroni as you make the cheese sauce.
In a large saucepan (I think mine is 8 quarts) melt the butter over medium high heat. Add the flour and whisk together to form a roux. Add one cup of milk and keep whisking until it thickens. Add rest of milk slowly, stirring constantly.
Once milk is added, add diced onion, salt and pepper. Let cook for two to three minutes until mixture is warm enough to melt the cheese. Add shredded cheeses one handful at a time, stirring constantly to avoid sticking and scorching on the bottom of your saucepan. When all the cheese is added and melted, pour cheese sauce over cooked macaroni and stir. It should be loose, you may think you have too much cheese sauce. You don’t! It will cook down and be perfect once it bakes.
Take the crushed saltine crackers and spread evenly over the top of the mac and cheese. Do NOT stir. This becomes a crunchy cheesy crust that is nom-tastic.
Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes. Let cool for ten minutes before serving. It will still be steaming hot, so be careful. Enjoy!