Yesterday, around midday, I sent Josh a message asking him to grab two blocks of Italian sausage from the freezer and set them in a bowl on the counter to thaw. When I got home, I saw that he dutifully did so. I also noticed that rather than them being two half-pound blocks of Italian sausage, they were two quarter-pound blocks of breakfast sausage.
I grumbled my way over to the freezer, intending to hunt down the Italian sausage. There was none.
Husband forgiven, it was time to improvise. I had half the amount that I needed, and it was the wrong kind of meat. To solve the first problem, I grabbed a half-pound block of ground beef. For the second problem, I asked the internet what to do. Internet, what do you do when you've only got breakfast sausage and you need Italian sausage, otherwise your big dish of baked ziti is going to taste weird?
You know what's great about the Internet? Whatever problem you've got, someone else has already had it and written about what they did to solve it. Now there will be two of us who had to turn breakfast sausage into Italian sausage. AND, I get to use fennel seed, which I think I bought a couple years ago when I was all excited about cooking with crazy spices. Never used it until the fateful day when I needed to perform a little sausage alchemy.
I've never made baked ziti before, and I'm honestly kind of indifferent about it. It seems like some kind of lazy lasagna that couldn't even be bothered to get into layers. Now that I think about it, that seems like a reason to like it, since I am pretty lazy, too. In any case, my first attempt at ziti turned out pretty delicious, so maybe I've been unfairly maligning baked ziti. I'm sorry, baked ziti.
For the ziti, I modified the Pioneer Woman's version to make it appropriate for someone who does not work on a cattle ranch - I cut down on the meat and cheese. I'm sure it would be amazing with two pounds of meat and a pound and a half of cheese, but that's true of pretty much everything.
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 whole large onion, Diced
1/2 pound Italian sausage
1/2 pound ground beef
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes with juice
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
salt and pepper, to taste
16 ounces, weight ziti, cooked until not quite al dente
15 oz ricotta cheese
3 cups mozzerella cheese, grated
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 whole egg
Heat a pot over medium heat. Add Italian sausage and ground beef and cook until browned. Remove meat from pan, leaving the fat. Add onions and garlic and saute for several minutes, or until starting to soften. Add meat back to pan.
Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes. Stir and simmer for 25 to 30 minutes. After that time, remove 3 to 4 cups of the sauce to a different bowl to cool down.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
In a separate bowl, mix together the ricotta cheese, 1 cup of the grated mozzarella, Parmesan, egg, and salt and pepper. Stir together just a couple of times (do not mix completely).
Drain the pasta and rinse under cool water to stop the cooking and cool it down. Pour it into the bowl with the cheese mixture and toss to slightly combine (there should still be large lumps.) Add the cooled meat sauce and toss to combine.
Add half the coated pasta to a large casserole dish or lasagna dish. Spoon half of the remaining sauce over the top, then top with half the remaining mozzarella cheese. Repeat with another layer of the coated pasta, the sauce, and the mozzarella.
Bake for 20 minutes, or until bubbling. Remove from oven and let stand 5 minutes before serving.