This is the ULTIMATE Baked Ziti Recipe. It may look intimidating, but it’s rather simple and SO worth it!
Olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)
1 small onion, diced
1/4 cup minced roasted red bell pepper (from a jar)
1/2 pound lean ground beef
1/4 pound spicy or sweet Italian sausage, casing removed and crumbled into chunks
6 cloves garlic, pressed through garlic press
1 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
1 (28 ounce) can plus 1 (15 ounce) can organic crushed tomatoes
12 ounces (3/4 pound) uncooked ziti pasta
1 tablespoon chopped parsley, plus extra for garnish
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided use
2 cups shredded whole-milk mozzarella
Basil leaves, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350°, and have a medium-large baking dish ready.
To prepare the meat sauce, place a large skillet over medium-high heat, and drizzle in the olive oil; once hot, add in the diced onion and minced roasted red bell pepper and saute for a several minutes until softened. Add the ground beef and sausage in, along with a pinch or two of salt and pepper, and cook the meat, breaking it up, until browned and cooked through; add the garlic, Italian seasoning, dried oregano and pinch of red pepper flakes, and stir to combine.
Once fragrant, add in the tomato paste and stir to combine, followed by the red wine; allow the wine to bubble and reduce for a moment. Add in all of the canned tomatoes, plus another pinch of salt and pepper, and allow the sauce to simmer gently for about 20 minutes.
While the sauce simmers, cook your ziti pasta according to package instructions, and keep warm.
To finish the sauce, stir in the 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley, and check to see if any additional salt/pepper is needed; reserve 2 cups of the sauce, one to spread on the bottom of your baking dish, and one to spoon over top of the last layer of pasta before topping with the cheese and baking.
In a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese with 1/4 cup of the grated parmesan, and set aside for a moment.
Add the cooked ziti pasta to the remaining meat sauce, and stir gently to combine; add the ricotta/parmesan mixture, and gently fold that in until mostly combined, leaving some streaks.
Spread 1 cup of the reserved meat sauce on the bottom of your baking dish, and spoon half of the pasta mixture into the dish; sprinkle over half of the remaining grated parmesan cheese, and about 1/2 cup of the mozzarella cheese. Add the remainder of the pasta mixture into the baking dish, spoon over the remaining 1 cup of reserved sauce, and sprinkle over the rest of the parmesan cheese and the remaining 1 1/2 cups of the mozzarella cheese.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until hot, bubbly and gooey; sprinkle with fresh basil and parsley, and serve.