Ziti al Forno – Baked Ziti

Hurricane Ziti

I can’t think of a better comfort food to make during bad weather than a baked ziti. And maybe for the occasion I’ll add little meatballs to it. Hurricane Irene is barreling down on us, we are less than 12  hours away from the eye getting to the New York Metropolitan area. I figure, If I’m going to lose my power I might as well have a good hearty meal on hand to keep me going for a few days. Very easy to heat up on a stove top as well because my double wall oven is electric.

Before Hurricane Irene we would make baked ziti for any special occasion. Especially if we were having a large family party with tons of people. Baked ziti never disappointed. It was a staple of family gatherings. There was always plenty baked ziti and everyone loved it. Add the little meatballs and the occasion became even more special.


Baked Ziti

  • 1 box Barilla Ziti Pasta 16 oz
  • tomato sauce with sausage and little meatballs (recipe follows)
  • 1 pound (16 ounces) ricotta
  • 1 pound shredded mozzarella
  • 1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
  • 6 basil leaves, torn
  • 3 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

For the meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup grated Locatelli Pecorino Romano – 1 Pound
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian Parsley
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive

Combine all the ingredients except the olive oil in a large bowl and mix well. Shape the meatballs by rolling them between your palms. They should be the size of grapes.

Heat a large frying pan with the olive oil and brown the meatballs on all sides. Let the meatballs sit for a while before turning them, that way they won’t break apart. Don’t worry about cooking them through because they will finish cooking in the sauce. Transfer the cooked meatballs to a plate and set aside.

For the tomato sauce

In a large sauce pot (this is what I use and where you can get it Le Creuset Signature Enameled Cast-Iron 5-1/2-Quart Round French Oven)  heat olive oil on medium high heat. Brown the sausage on all sides. Don’t worry about cooking them through because they will finish cooking in the sauce. Remove the sausage and transfer to a plate.

In the same pot add the chopped onions and cook 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute until fragrant. Add the three cans of peeled tomatoes. In a large measuring cup add 2 cups of water and add the tomato paste. Mix till dissolved then add to the pot of sauce. Bring the sauce to a simmering boil then add the sausage and little meatballs.

Turn the heat to low and cook the sauce for about an hour to an hour and a half, stirring occasionally, partially covered, until thickened. Add the basil and taste for salt and pepper. When the sauce is cooked remove the sausage and little meatballs and set aside. Cut the sausage in little pieces and put with the meatballs.

Just before the sauce is ready bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the ziti al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain the cooked ziti and place back into the pot. Add about 3 cups of tomato sauce to the ziti and half the grated cheese and mix well. This will prevent the ziti from sticking together. Stir in the meatballs and sausage pieces.

The Assembly:

In a large oven pan or 4 quart casserole baking dish put half of the ziti mixture. Cover it with the ricotta and sprinkle with the mozzarella and some of the other half of the grated cheese. Pour on 1-2 cups of sauce. Top with the remaining ziti and another cup or two of sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining grated cheese. Cover the dish with foil.

Bake the ziti in a 350 degree pre-heated oven for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes, or until the center is hot and the sauce is bubbling around the edges. Cover and let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Have some extra sauce on the side.

About Peter Bocchieri

Peter was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY and is a second generation Italian-American. He has a degree in Journalism from Long Island University and is an avid photographer, gardener and pet owner. Now that Peter is retired, he is relaxing at his home in North East Pennsylvania and cooking for his sons, Michael and Joseph, family and friends. Peter's passion for food was inspired by his Mother's and Grandmother's cooking, but at the age of 10 Peter felt he could do it better himself, so he did.
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9 Responses to Ziti al Forno – Baked Ziti

  1. Sharon M says:

    I’m so bad at estimating. How many do you think the ziti recipe serves? I agree ziti is the best for a group. I’m feeding a crowd this weekend and your recipe sounds good, so I’m going to go with it. I’ve been reading your recipes for a while now and love your accompanying stories. My family is the same way about mushy veggies! I try to make green beans with some snap to them and I get accused of being a horrible cook. My grandfather is from the Venice area (came here when he was 8) and my grandmother was born here, but her parents were directly from Sicily.

    • Sharon, a quarter pound of pasta feeds one person. So 1 pound of pasta should feed four hungry people. But this has sausage and meatballs and ricotta in it so it will go further. This recipe should feed 6-7 people. If you have other food with the ziti you could probably feed 9-10 people. If you have more than 10 guest I would double it. It’s always better to have leftover than run out.

      • Thanks! I’ll let you know how it works out. It’s 24 people, but 4 are little kids and about 10 are very elderly (not big eaters). I doubled the recipe and found myself with 3 half-trays of that I refrigerated and will bake tomorrow. Since a few are vegetarians, I put the meat separately and bought a little extra, so I also have a half try of sausage pieces and a half tray of the mini meatballs, in sauce. I’m serving green salad, fresh Italian bread (Calandra’s!), antipasto (olives, giardiniera, cheeses and meats),plus chocolates and hummus/chips. Also, I’m making Giada’s mini Italian clubs, which I’ve done before (http://tinyurl.com/6aqapx).

      • Sounds like a party!!! Have fun, I’m sure it’s all going to turn out great.

  2. Gotcha! I’m doubling it! Thanks.

  3. Jen M says:

    My daughter’s 9th birthday was last weekend and I needed to serve a housefull. I was craving some really good baked ziti so I searched google for “baked ziti with little meatballs” trying to find a recipe from Giada on the Food Network that I had previously made. But, your blog came up instead. The recipe looked great so I gave it a shot. Your baked ziti blew Giada’s away – delicious!!! The meatballs were perfect. I had almost no left overs – which I was thrilled about because I love when people enjoy my cooking, but sad because I could have eaten this for days and only had maybe a bowl left. There is nothing like food made with love. Thank you for sharing your amazing recipes and “love” stories with them. I look forward to cooking my way down the list. Baked Chicken in Wine is on the menu for tomorrow. Can’t wait!

  4. Sara says:

    I made this recipe a couple days ago and it was amazing. I originally grew up in Rhode Island surrounded by wonderful Italian food, but I moved to Seattle where most of my friends weren’t even too sure what ziti was. This brought back so many great flavors from home. It is a labor of love, but was well worth it all.

    Thank you so much for sharing!

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