At the beginning of the New Year, I began culling my old recipes. One of my goals was to eliminate the useless, outdated ones and update the usable dishes that could be delectable instead of just good.
One of the gems I found was a traditional macaroni and cheese with a Mexican slant with a tomato sauce. Back when it was popular, this recipe used macaroni, cheddar cheese, green chilis and ground beef. Not much else except some traditional spices like oregano.
In my upgrade, I followed the basic directions for my old recipe. However, I substituted Ziti for macaroni, Pecorino for Cheddar and added some fresh ricotta for a creamier texture. Instead of hamburger, I used a spicy hot Italian sausage. Therefore, the recipe followed the same path but I did alter ingredients.
The result was quite pleasing. In fact, it was good enough to serve to company with a side salad, some freshly toasted bread and a sprinkle of Parmesan.
Baked Ziti with Spicy Italian Sausage and Fresh Tomatoes
Olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. hot Italian sausage, removed from casing and coarsely crumbled
1/3 cup dry red wine (I used a Cabernet)
Fresh ground salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup crushed dried oregano
28 oz. can whole tomatoes, chopped, with juices
1 cup ricotta, fresh is better if you can get it or packaged will do.
½ lb. mozzarella, fresh is better but packaged will work,
cut into small diced cubes
1 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino
¼-1/3 cup chopped Italian Parsley
Generous pinch of nutmeg
1 lb. Ziti
Generous sprinkle of Panko Crumbs – about 1 cup or so.
Preheat the oven to 425˚ while you assemble the ingredients.
Lightly oil a baking dish and bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta.
Prepare your mise en place (all ingredients) before beginning. Do all your chopping, dicing, measuring and assembling to allow the process to move smoothly.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat and then add about 2 Tablespoons olive oil. When it shimmers, add the onion and sauté until soft for about 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and crumbled sausage. Saute until the sausage is browned on all sides. Season the mixture with salt and pepper.
If there appears to be too much fat in the pan, pour most of it off. Otherwise, use the fat for flavoring in the recipe.
Add the red wine and boil. When it’s almost vanished, Add the tomatoes and their juices. Cook, uncovered, for about 10-12 minutes. The sauce should thicken slightly at this point. Add the oregano and taste. Adjust seasoning if necessary.
While the sauce cooks and thickens, mix the ricotta with the pecorino or parmesan and the parsley and nutmeg. Let it sit while you cook the pasta.
Cook the Ziti until it’s just al dente (firm to bite). Drain the ziti and mix it thoroughly, while still hot, with the ricotta mixture. Coat the ziti well. The ricotta mixture should melt like a sauce from the heat of the ziti. Add the sausage and its sauce and mix thoroughly again.
Next, add the chopped mozzarella and toss together until mixed well.
Last, pour the entire mixture into the prepared casserole dish. Sprinkle generously with panko bread crumbs and bake, uncovered, until lightly browned, about 20 minutes.
Let cool for about 5 minutes before serving. Serve with a fresh green salad and/or a side of vegetables and some hot bread.