Baked Ziti and Italian Sausage is a Traditional Italian – American pasta dish that our family has made for years, it contains perfectly cooked pasta, a delicious homemade Red Sauce, quality, bold Italian Hot Sausage, Italian herbs, and spices, with a Ricotta center, fresh mozzarella, and a basil topping.
Most Baked Ziti recipes you will find on the worldwide net call for the ricotta cheese to be mixed with the pasta; however, I love the vibrant, creamy exceptional center in my version of Baked Ziti and Italian Sausage with Fresh Mozzarella Cheese – Pasta al Forno.
Truly one of the things I love about most Italian-American dishes is they are are very few rules to making your Pasta dishes. Recipes may vary and can contain a wide variety of ingredients that continue the Italian traditions of the old world. The traditional methods are not meant to be complicated; it’s not the Italian way of life to complicate matters in such away.
What did I mean by the statement of no rules? Take, for example, Pasta al Forno is more of a method of Italian cooking. Ingredients can vary widely Pasta al Forno is usually the result of an inspired cook or need to use up some leftovers you may have had lingered. Below you will find my recipe for Baked Ziti and Italian Sausage with Fresh Mozzarella Cheese – (Pasta al Forno) with Homemade Sauce recipe and simple to follow instructions.
Oven-baked pasta, such as Baked Ziti, has a long, remarkable history. Making delicious pasta dishes was a perfect opportunity for a person to show off their cooking creativity. Baked pasta, aka pasta al forno, was adopted all over Italy. Cooked pasta has become a staple dish all over southern Italy, where it’s usually made on holidays, special occasions, and Sunday dinner. They call it piatto unico, one a complete meal.
Every Italian-American has their take on what they consider Baked Ziti; some add mushrooms, onions, and ground beef; I prefer my Baked Ziti with Hot Italian Sausage, green and red bell peppers, onions, and large garlic aka Italian Gold. That’s the awesome thing about Baked Ziti- enjoy it the way you want. The only ingredients set in stone are the ziti noodles, a great sauce, and quality ricotta cheese.
I also prefer using sliced fresh mozzarella cheese over those bags of shredded mozzarella cheese or blocks of cheese; the flavor is like comparing apples to oranges. If you prefer using the other, you can, but seriously just once you have to try it with fresh instead—OMG, it is so darn good. I love how it melts so much better too. Trust me on this one, ladies and gents.
I hope you enjoy my recipe for Baked Ziti as much as we do here at the McCallum Household. It’s relatively easy to make. If you try it, be sure to come back and let me know what you think because I love hearing from you. Be sure to use quality organic tomatoes when making the sauce, and it just turns out so much better than the regular ones. I never need to add sugar to my sauce when I use quality organic tomatoes.
Ingredients you will need for the recipe:
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
One pound organic ziti pasta, cooked al dente
1-2 tablespoons organic olive oil
One pound Italian hot sausage links
One pound fresh ricotta
Five fresh basil leaves, torn
Five cups homemade red sauce, see recipe below
Eight ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced
Five fresh basil leaves, garnish
Two Tablespoons of authentic organic olive oil
One small onion sliced paper-thin and separated into crescents
Six cloves garlic, sliced paper-thin
1/2 cup minced green bell peppers
1/2 cup diced red bell peppers, optional
Two- large cans (1 pound, 12 oz.) organic crushed tomatoes
Two tablespoons organic tomato paste
One teaspoon kosher salt
Three tablespoons fresh basil chopped
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
A few hot pepper flakes, to taste
Frequently asked questions
How do you keep cooked pasta fresh? Store in air-tight containers for 3-4 days. Reheat when ready.
How do I make this recipe Gluten-free? Use only Gluten-free pasta, spices, and ingredients. Always check the labels to see if the element is manufactured in a cross-contaminated area.
Should I rinse the pasta after draining? No, the only thing this does is altogether remove the starch that helps the pasta absorb the sauce. You not only wash away the ability for the sauce to cling to the pasta, but also the flavor of the pasta.
I do not have fresh basil can I use dried Basil in the recipe? Yes, using dried basil is perfectly fine in the sauce. Keep in mind that the flavor may be more intense, so add slowly and taste tests to ensure it has the right flavor.
Can table salt be substituted for the kosher salt? The recipe calls for a teaspoon of kosher salt, use ½ to ¾ teaspoon of table salt to replace it.
I like Oregano but have been told it does not belong in pasta sauce is that true? Our family usually avoids it, but I know plenty of other Italian-American families that swear by it. If you enjoy it, then add a little. Life is too short for all these food rules.
Can I use non-organic ingredients in the recipe? The answer is yes; however, the taste will be off. Usually, non-organic tomatoes and paste have a slightly bitter acidic chemical taste. This is why so many feel the need to add sugar to their sauce. If you can splurge on the organic, it is worth it.
Baked Ziti and Italian Sausage
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 1 pound Organic ziti pasta cooked al dente
- 1-2 tablespoons Organic olive oil
- 1 pound Italian hot sausage links browned and sliced
- 1- 16-ounce Container Fresh ricotta
- 5 Fresh basil leaves torn
- 5 cups Homemade red sauce see recipe below
- 8 ounces Fresh mozzarella cheese sliced
- 5 Fresh basil leaves garnish
- 2 Tablespoons Organic olive oil
- 1 small Onion sliced paper-thin and separated into crescents
- 6 cloves Garlic sliced paper-thin
- 1/2 cup Minced green bell peppers
- 1/2 cup Minced red bell peppers
- 2-28- ounce Cans organic crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons Organic tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons Fresh basil chopped
- 1/4 cup Chopped flat-leaf parsley
- Hot pepper flakes to own taste
- Place large dutch oven on low-medium heat till heated, add 2 tablespoon of olive oil, then place Italian sausage links into dutch oven to brown continuously turning for an even coloration of the sausage for about 10-12 minutes then add the onion, garlic,minced green peppers, minced red peppers, stir ingredients frequently and cook until onion is a slightly golden color, but not brown .
- Slowly pour the organic crushed style tomatoes and tomato paste in the dutch oven, stirring constantly, be sure the dutch oven doesn't become too hot or it will spatter. Add the sliced Italian sausage, salt, pepper, basil, fresh parsley, and hot pepper flakes.
- Once done remove from heat and place Italian sausage links on a plate to cool. Once the Italian sausage has cooled slice sausage, place the sausage to the side.
- Simmer sauce on low heat for 20-30 minutes stirring the sauce a few times.
- In the meantime, fill a large pasta pan with cold tap water, add oil and kosher salt to the water.Bring the water to a full boil and add pasta, cook al dente (directions on package) drain pasta.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Spread 1 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 or large glass baking dish. Layer half of the ziti on top of the sauce. Pour 2 cups of the sauce over the pasta, and spread in an even layer. Spread ricotta cheese on top of pasta along with 5 torn basil leaves. Top with the rest of the pasta, and spread 2 cups sauce over a layer of pasta. Arrange fresh mozzarella slices on top.
- Place the dish in the oven and bake, uncovered, until bubbly, about 25 minutes.
- Garnish with remaining basil and let rest 5 minutes before cutting.
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