June 2, 2011

Freezer Baked Ziti

Babies are awesome. They are adorable, miraculous, loud, lovable, and messy little beings that take up so much space...in your heart and in your house. When you first come home from the hospital, it's a fog of exhausted chaos. And you forget to eat. Or, if you do eat, it's a bowl or cereal, one-handed, because the thought of cooking anything makes you want to cry. Okay, maybe that was just me. But still...it's hard.

If you have friends who are expecting a baby, or who have just had a baby, the BEST thing you can do for them is bring them food. Yes, baby clothes and gifts are adorable and so much fun to buy, but if you want to be forever in their good graces, bring a meal along with your onesies and adorably tiny socks. Ask them what they like/don't like, give it to them either frozen (with cooking instructions) or ready-to-eat, and you'll be elevated to Most Amazing Friend Ever status.

When our good friends had their sweet baby boy, we all signed up to bring them a meal on a specific night. I made something simple that I could divide in half and keep part in our freezer (hey, it's still hard with a 6-month old!). This recipe, while fairly easy, was pretty okay. It wasn't my favorite baked ziti ever, but it's healthy and tasty. It keeps really well in the freezer, and you can just serve it up with a nice salad. Or a side of formula. Whatever works in your house!

Baked Ziti
adapted from OAMC Cooking

1 (16 ounce) box uncooked ziti pasta (I used whole wheat penne)
2 lbs ground beef (I omitted)
1 teaspoon dried chili pepper flakes
1 large onion, chopped
1 -2 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
2 -3 teaspoons seasoning salt
fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
8 -10 cups favorite prepared pasta sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (you will need more to sprinkle on top after baking)
1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided (or to taste)

In a large pot cook the pasta in boiling salted water until JUST al dente (leave the pasta still firm, do not overcook) drain but do NOT rinse.Transfer to a large bowl and mix in 2 tablespoons oil to prevent the pasta from sticking together; set aside.

In a pot or Dutch oven cook the ground or sausage meat with chili flakes, if using and onion until beef is lightly browned; drain fat. Add in the garlic and bell pepper; cook stirring about 10 minutes. Season with seasoned salt or white salt and ground black pepper.

Stir in the pasta sauce and reduce heat to low; simmer stirring for about 25-30 minutes.
Mix in 2 cups of mozzarella cheese and the cooked ziti pasta. Divide the mixture between two greased 12-1/2 x 8-inch disposable foil pans.

Sprinkle about 3/4 cup or to taste of Parmesan cheese over each top of pan (do not bake).
Cool completely then cover with heavy foil, freeze until ready to use or bake one right away!

Thaw in the refrigerator overnight.

TO BAKE; set oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake uncovered for about 45-50 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Remove from oven and sprinkle about 2 cups mozzarella cheese on top, then return to oven for 5 minutes to melt the cheese.