Baked Ziti with Pesto

This is a dish I brag about; the one I make whenever guests* are coming to dinner and I want to make something that everyone will love. Sean and I can easily eat this for a week without getting sick of the leftovers, and the addition of Leanna’s Pesto will make it the best baked ziti you’ve ever had. Just be mindful that this isn’t what I’d call “healthy” (but really, who doesn’t deserve to indulge from time to time?).

Time: 1.5 hours

Type: Entree

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. ziti or penne pasta
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 28 oz canned crushed tomatoes in thick puree
  • 1 Tsbp + ¼ t salt
  • ½ t freshly ground pepper
  • 1 ½  cup ricotta cheese
  • 3 cup mozzarella cheese OR 2 cup shredded and 1 ball of fresh mozzarella pearls
  • ½ – 1 cup Leanna’s Pesto
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley or basil (optional)
  • 1/3 cup roasted pine nuts (optional, but recommended)

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 9×13 oven dish.
  2. Fill a medium saucepan with water and 1 Tsbp salt, bring to boil. Cook the ziti in the saucepan for 7 minutes until partially al dente. While it’s cooking, chop your onion and garlic.
  3. Drain pasta, toss with 1 Tsbp olive oil, and set aside.
  4. In a medium saucepan (or the one you cooked the ziti in if you’re trying to save on dishes!), heat 1 ½ Tbsp of the oil and cook the onion and garlic until softened. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt and pepper. Let simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. While the sauce is simmering, mix the ricotta, 2 cups shredded mozzarella, Leanna’s Pesto, and ¼ cup parmesan cheese in a mixing bowl. Add pepper to taste.
  6. Put half the ziti in the baking dish and top with the tomato sauce. Spread the cheese/pesto mixture on top of the layer. Add another layer of pasta, sauce and then the remaining mozzarella (pearls or shredded) and ¼ C parmesan.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes, remove and set 10 minutes before serving. If using, add the chopped parsley, basil, or roasted pine nuts.

 

*If you or your guests are strongly against eating an entree without meat (which I think is silly, but mindsets are hard to change), you could add 1 lb of Italian sausage to this dish. Just break it up and cook fully in the saucepan with your onion and garlic before throwing in the crushed tomatoes (step 4).

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