Yes it’s the middle of the holiday season and I am posting baked ziti, know why? Because it’s not a roast or ham or cookie recipe, I need a break. This ziti is a simple casserole dish that can travel to pot luck or feed a house full of holiday guests with only a little bit of work on your part. It’s a pretty basic ziti except I add in pepperoni and (if my mom is not coming to dinner) pesto. If you are like my mom and don’t like pesto no worries just leave it out and you still can enjoy the extra peppery kick of the pepperoni with just a little “normal” Italian spices tossed in to the ricotta. If you love pesto homemade or store bought will work perfectly in this recipe, but do give the ricotta a taste after you mix in the pesto because strength can vary widely in pesto and you want to be sure you have mixed in enough.
I always make double or triple batches of homemade meat sauce, meaty marinara, spaghetti sauce or whatever you would like to call it. Thus I have batches frozen anytime I need/want to make a ziti. If you don’t have your own spaghetti sauce recipe there are a thousand great meat sauce recipes out there pick one and use that for this ziti, I sure it will work just perfect. I served this with some red wine, crusty bread and a Swiss Chard salad. Enjoy!!
Pepperoni Baked Ziti
- 1 lbs package of ziti or penne pasta
- 6-8 cups of homemade red meat sauce
- 2 medium onions
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 small container of ricotta cheese
- ¼ cup pesto sauce OR 1 egg and 2 tbsp Italian spices
- 1 32 oz package of shredded mozzarella cheese
- 1 can crushed tomatoes
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup of red wine
- 3.5 oz package of sliced pepperoni
- Ground Black Pepper
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Boil your pasta in salted water; cook it about 80% done, so if the box says 10 minutes boil for only 8 minutes. Drain and set the pasta aside. In a large pot sauté about three quarters of the halved pepperoni until it renders out most of its fat, if you have a lot of fat in the pan drain off the majority of it.
Add in the diced onion and garlic. Cook the onion until it is starting to become transparent, then add in the crushed tomatoes with all the liquid in the can. Cook for about five more minutes before you add in the meat sauce. Use the red wine to make the sauce the right thickness. Turn down the heat and leave the sauce on the stove while you make the cheese filling.
In a bowl mix the ricotta and most of the mozzarella cheese together with either the egg & Italian spices or the pesto. Add a good bit ground black pepper too. You may want to taste the cheese mixture and adjust the flavoring as you desire, I especially recommend adding extra pesto if the cheese is not tasting really flavorful.
Now it’s time to assemble, don’t’ forget to spray that ziti pan with non-stick spray. Baked ziti is free form lasagna; just throw it all in there until it looks good. I start with a big scoop of sauce then alternate “layers” of pasta, cheese mixture and more sauce until the pan is full. Then top it all off with the remaining shredded cheese and a layer of the uncooked pepperoni. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the top browns and the edges are bubbling, about 30-45 minutes. If you are concerned that it’s not cooked through put a meat thermometer in the middle and get the exact temperature, about 160F is what you are looking for. Allow the pasta to rest for at least ten minutes before you scoop some out, top with extra parmesan as desired.