Baked Ziti Casserole
1 pound dried ziti pasta
3 1/2 cups sausage marinara sauce, recipe follows
1 pound fresh mozzarella, half cut into 1/2-inch cubes and half thinly sliced
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 1 to 2 tablespoons kosher salt and boil pasta until al dente, tender but still slightly firm. Drain pasta and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process if not using immediately.
Return the pasta to the pot and toss with the meat sauce, cubed mozzarella, ½ cup Parmesan cheese, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Transfer pasta mixture to an oiled 9 by 13-inch baking dish.
Layer the top of the pasta with the mozzarella slices and and sprinkle with remaining ½ cup Parmesan. Bake until lightly browned and bubbly, about 25 to 30 minutes. Serve immediately.
Sausage Marinara Sauce
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound mild Italian sausage
1/4 medium onion, diced (about 3 tablespoons)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 28 oz. can whole, peeled, canned tomatoes in puree, (3 ½ cups), roughly chopped
Sprig fresh thyme
Sprig fresh basil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook the sausage until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes.
Add the onion and garlic, stirring, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes more. Add the tomatoes and the herb sprigs and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 10 minutes.
Remove and discard the herb sprigs. Stir in the salt and season with pepper, to taste. Use now or store covered in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 2 months.