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Baked Ziti

Comfort food at its finest -- Baked Ziti made with tender pasta, irresistible ground beef and tomato sauce, and a combination of three different cheeses! 
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine American, Italian
Keyword baked ziti
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings 8 servings
Calories 445kcal

Ingredients

  • 4 cups uncooked ziti pasta
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 heaping tablespoon finely minced garlic (~4 cloves)
  • 1 cup (130g) finely diced yellow onion (~1 medium onion)
  • 1 pound lean (93/7g) ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds optional
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon EACH: fine sea salt, pepper, dried basil, dried oregano, white granulated sugar, beef bouillon powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cans (15 oz. EACH) tomato sauce
  • 1 can (14.5 oz.) crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 container (8 oz.; 226g) mascarpone cheese (See Note 1)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 and 1/2 cups freshly grated mozzarella cheese, divided (1 cup (104g); 1/2 cup (59g))
  • 1 cup (94g) freshly grated Parmesan cheese divided
  • Finely chopped Italian parsley or basil optional

Instructions

  • PREP: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x13-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  • ZITI: Follow package directions to cook ziti, but subtract 2 minutes from the recommended time. Make sure to season the pasta water (I add 2 teaspoons fine sea salt to the water). Drain the pasta and then return it to the pot and set aside.
  • SAUCE: Add oil in a large skillet over high heat. Once the oil is hot, add onion and sauté for 5-6 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook for 30 more seconds. Press onion and garlic to the side and add the beef to the middle of the pan. Cook the beef until browned through, crumbling it as it cooks. Add in all the seasonings: 1 tablespoon paprika, 2 teaspoons fennel seeds, 2 teaspoons onion powder, and 1 teaspoon of each of the following: fine sea salt, pepper, basil, oregano, sugar, beef bouillon powder. Add 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (omit or reduce if sensitive to heat). Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add in the tomato paste, both cans of tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, and Worcestershire sauce. Stir. Bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat and cook for 10-15 minutes or until slightly thickened.
  • CHEESES: Freshly grated the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese on the large holes of a cheese grater. Open the mascarpone cheese and stir in the 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder.
  • TOSS PASTA AND SAUCE: Add about 2 and 1/2 cups of the meat sauce into the pot with the cooked ziti. Stir to coat.
  • ASSEMBLE: Spread half of the sauced ziti noodles into the prepared baking dish. Dollop with mascarpone and gently spread (it's okay if it doesn't spread smoothly). Add 1/2 cup of mozzarella cheese and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Add another 2 cups of the meat sauce and the rest of the sauced ziti. Cover with 1/2 cup mozzarella, remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, and finally the rest of the meat sauce.
  • BAKE: Cover loosely with foil and bake for 10 minutes. Remove foil, and top with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese. Bake another 10 to 15 minutes until cheese is melted and edges are bubbling. Let stand for 5-10 minutes at room temperature.
  • SERVE: Top with some additional grated Parmesan, fresh basil or parsley, and/or freshly cracked black pepper, and serve hot!

Video

Notes

Note 1: Marscapone is one of the secrets to this recipe. If you aren't familiar, Mascarpone cheese is similar to cream cheese but uses a base of whole cream rather than milk. It's a fresh, unaged cheese and can be found usually in one of three places in the grocery store: the deli counter, in the dairy section (near the cream cheese, sour cream, etc.), or the specialty foods section (near more exotic cheeses like brie).  If you have a grocery store app, I recommend using that to quickly locate it in your grocery store. While you can use ricotta in place of the mascarpone cheese, I can't recommend the mascarpone enough!

Nutrition

Calories: 445kcal | Carbohydrates: 29g | Protein: 31g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 11g | Cholesterol: 74mg | Sodium: 702mg | Potassium: 426mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 883IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 490mg | Iron: 3mg