Friday, June 10, 2011

Lori's 4 Cheese Baked Ziti

I love the cheesy topping on baked ziti. This recipe is reminiscent of lasagne without the layers, and I think it has an entirely different taste, though I make my cheese layer basically the same way for both. This is delicious and makes a large amount. You can half this recipe or place in two pans, making one for dinner and freezing the other to have for a later date. Frozen meals stay good in the freezer for up to 2 months. Just give frozen meals 2-3 hours to bake. This is another one of those dishes that is great for pot lucks.

Lori's 4 Cheese Baked Ziti

1 pound box (16 oz) mini penne rigate (or you can use a traditional ziti noodle)
2 pounds ground chuck*
1 onion, chopped
2-4 cloves garlic, minced, depending on taste
Real sea salt and pepper, to taste
about 66 ounces spaghetti sauce (about 2 1/2 jars)*
15 oz ricotta cheese*
about 4 ounces Cheddar cheese*
about 1- 1 1/4 cups Parmesan cheese
16 ounces (1 lb) Mozzarella cheese, divided
1 egg
1/2 tsp. garlic salt
pepper, to taste
1 Tbls. dried parsley flakes or fresh parsley, chopped
Olive oil cooking spray

                                                                                                                                  Bake at 350 degrees.
Place pot of water on to boil; cook noodles according to pkg. directions.
Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven, brown ground chuck with onions. garlic, salt, and pepper; drain grease. Return to pot and add spaghetti sauce. Allow to simmer till ready to use.
While meat is cooking, combine cheeses, egg, spices, and enough milk to make creamy, about 1/4-1/3 cup or so. Mix well.
Combine noodles and meat sauce and blend well. Place in a 15" x 10" pan. Spoon cheese mixture over top and spread around lightly. Take a large piece of foil and spray with olive oil cooking spray; cover casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45-60 minutes, till cheese is set and casserole is hot and bubbly. Remove foil and sprinkle with remaining cheese. Return to oven to melt over top. Allow casserole to sit for 10-15 minutes so cheese will set up before cutting into. Makes enough to serve 8-10, possibly more if served with salad and bread.

*You can use less meat, but we like lots of meat. If using less meat you can cut down some on spaghetti sauce.
*Spaghetti sauce used to come in 32 ounce quart jars. Spaghetti sauce now comes in 24 oz to 26 oz jars. I use the Meijer brand spaghetti sauce and sometimes Bertolli or Ragu. I mix the brands. I use about 2 1/2 jars of sauce in this dish and freeze the remainder in its original jar till needed for another dish.
*I never measure the Cheddar cheese I add, I just dump in what looks right.
*Make sure you get a good ricotta cheese, one not made with a lot of added ingredients. Miceli's is good as it only contains milk, whey, cream, vinegar, and salt. Other brands contain guar gum, modified corn starch, and preservatives.
*You can also add green pepper and mushrooms to this recipe, if you'd like.

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