Lunchbreak: Baked Ziti with Spinach and Sausage

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Joe Gitter – Senior Editor at America’s Test Kitchen and an on-screen instructor for America’s Test Kitchen Online Cooking School

Book: One Hour Comfort Food


Baked Ziti with Spinach and Sausage

Why This Recipe Works

A pan of baked ziti is always an appealing thought, but it often turns out to be more work than one wants to put into a simple dinner. Streamlining this multipot affair into just one Dutch oven was the first step toward simplification, and we started with a quick meat sauce. First we browned sweet Italian sausage and garlic. The addition of canned tomato sauce was convenient, and following that with canned diced tomatoes provided instant brightness. Oregano and red pepper flakes contributed complexity and some heat, while just ½ teaspoon of sugar tempered the tomatoes’ acidity. For a lively note, we stirred in basil along with the noodles. We cooked the pasta directly in our sauce, adding 2 cups of water to ensure there was enough liquid to adequately cook the ziti. Simmering the pasta until it was only partially cooked kept the noodles from turning mushy when we placed the pot under the broiler. And since no baked ziti is complete without plenty of cheese, we stirred in Parmesan and mozzarella before moving the pot to the oven. We then dolloped the surface with ricotta and gave it a final topping of more mozzarella and Parmesan, which melted and browned into a crust. To make this a true one-pot meal, we also stirred in a few handfuls of baby spinach with the cheese.

Part-skim ricotta and part-skim mozzarella cheese can be substituted, if desired. Do not use preshredded cheese, as it does not melt well.

Serves 4 to 6

1 hour

  • 8 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 (28-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  •  teaspoons minced fresh oregano or ½ teaspoon dried
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  •  teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 12 ounces (3¾ cups) ziti
  • 2 cups water
  • 6 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 7 ounces (7 cups) baby spinach, chopped coarse
  • 6 ounces whole-milk mozzarella cheese, cut into ¼-inch pieces (1½ cups)
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) whole-milk ricotta cheese

1. Cook sausage in Dutch oven over medium-high heat, breaking meat into ½-inch pieces, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato sauce, tomatoes and their juice, oregano, salt, sugar, and pepper flakes and bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.

2. Stir in pasta, water, and ¼ cup basil; increase heat to high and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer vigorously, stirring often, until pasta is still very firm but just starting to soften, 6 to 8 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack 8 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Off heat, stir in spinach, ¾ cup mozzarella, and ½ cup Parmesan. Dollop surface of pasta evenly with ricotta. Top with remaining ¾ cup mozzarella and remaining ½ cup Parmesan. Broil until cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, 5 to 7 minutes.

4. Transfer pot to wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons basil and serve.

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