Tonight’s Family Dinner: Baked Ziti

Baked ZitiDo you ever wake up knowing what you want for dinner? Today, I know I want a big Italian style meal. Yes, it was about 6:30 am when I made that decision. My feeling on this early morning decision is that anticipation will make for a great Sunday!

So what exactly am I anticipating? My Baked Ziti is very lasagna like but without the work. Easy homemade marinara, crumbled sweet Italian sausage (the key to a tasty Baked Ziti in my humble opinion), and lots of cheese! Add a fresh green salad, some extra garlicky garlic bread and I am a very, very happy girl. Treat yourself to an Italian feast tonight!

Baked Ziti Recipe

Baked Ziti with Homemade Marinara Sauce

Serves 8

First, make the Marinara Sauce:

  • 2 (14.5 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
  • 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/3 cup finely diced onion
  • 1/2 cup white wine

1. Heat large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add olive oil, then onions. Cook onions until translucent.

2. While onions are cooking, add tomatoes, tomato paste, parsley, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper to food processor or blender. Pulse until smooth.

3. Add wine and tomato sauce to onions. Simmer for 30 minutes over medium low, stirring occasionally.

Second, make the Baked Ziti:

  • 1 lb ziti pasta
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 lb ground sweet sausage (not in casings)
  • Marinara sauce (see above)
  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 1 T garlic powder
  • 1 T flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6-8 slices provolone cheese (not smoked)
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9×13 baking disk to prevent sticking.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add ziti and cook to al dente, about 7-8 minutes. Do not overcook the pasta here or your Baked Ziti will be mushy. Drain.

3. In a large, deep skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add onions and sweet sausage. When sausage is browned, add marinara. Simmer for 10 minutes.

4. While meat sauce is simmering, add ricotta, salt, garlic powder and parsley to a medium bowl. Stir until combined. Set aside.

5. Layer the ingredients in the baking dish as follows: 1/4 cup meat sauce, 1/2 of ziti, 1/2 of ricotta mixture, 1/2 of provolone cheese, 1/2 of mozzarella cheese, 1/2 of remaining meat sauce,  1/2 of parmesan cheese, then repeat with remaining 1/2 of ingredients. Cover with tin foil.

6. Bake for 15 minutes with foil. Remove foil and bake for remaining 15 minutes until cheeses are melted and gooey. Allow ziti to sit for 10 minutes before serving. This will allow the dish to set.

Unique and Easy: Marinated Mozzarella Bites

Every so often I take a trip to a specialty grocery store about thirty miles from my home. I can usually beat the everyday grocery store doldrums to find more interesting fruits and veggies, unique meats, and one of my favorites…the olive bar. This particular specialty store has every olive imaginable. One of my favorite selections on the olive bar is the marinated cheese. They usually carry some feta and mozzarella in a heavy olive oil spiked with crushed red pepper and herbs. I add some cheese to my olives and rush home. What happens when I get home? I eat the cheese and save the olives for later. I can’t seem to wait for these spicy little bites.

These Marinated Mozzarella Bites are my version of the olive bar offering. They are perfect as a snack or as an appetizer at your next party or family dinner.  I thought about adding some grated garlic but I worried it would overtake the whole appetizer. If you want some garlic, add it. If you like it spicy, add more crushed red pepper. Make it your own and tell me what you think!

Marinated Mozzarella Bites


8 oz Fresh mozzarella cheese

1/2 Cup Olive Oil

1 Tbsp Basil, minced

1 tsp Thyme, minced

1 1/2 Tbsp Chives, minced

1/2 tsp Salt

1/4 tsp Black Pepper

1/4 tsp Crushed red pepper

  1. Dice mozzarella into large chunks.
  2. Add all remaining ingredients in a separate bowl. Mix well.
  3. Add mozzarella chucks to marinade. Stir well until all mozzarella is covered in marinade.
  4. Store in refrigerator for at least 8 hours, stirring every so often.
  5. Ready to serve.