During the Great Recession I sometimes planned meals based on having saved money by buying in bulk. For instance, if I got a good deal on a big bag of mozzarella cheese one week, we’d have mostly Italian food that week like pizza, pasta dishes, and things that go well with mozzarella as a topping.

One dish that is economical to make and is good as leftovers is baked ziti.

The recipe I have calls for Ragu spaghetti sauce. But I rarely used prepared pasta sauce for two reasons; 1) it’s cheaper to buy canned tomato sauce or puree by the flat, and 2) it’s healthier to make it from scratch. You can sometimes find canned spaghetti sauce that is cheaper still, but be sure to read the label to see if the few cents you save is worth eating the stuff that is in it.

So, as I made baked ziti:

  • 1 29 oz. can tomato puree
  • 1 ½ lbs ground beef (optional)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese (optional)
  • ½ cup grated cheese: parmesan, ramano, or a mix
  • 12 oz. uncooked ziti pasta
  • If using ricotta cheese you need ¾ cup mozzarella, if not using ricotta cheese up it to about 1 ¼ cup
  • Onion powder to taste or 1 small onion
  • Garlic powder to taste or 1 tsp minced garlic
  • Salt to taste (optional)
  • Basil and oregano, or pre-mixed Italian seasoning to taste
  • Preheat oven to 400 F
  • Brown ground beef
  • Combine tomato puree, water, onion, garlic, basil and oregano and salt in a large bowl
  • Stir in ground beef and uncooked ziti
  • Pour mixture into a duch oven or covered large chef pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer for about 15 min, stirring occasionally.
  • Remove from heat and stir in remaining ingredients except mozzarella (if not using ricotta, add ½ cup mozzarella).
  • Pour mixture into a 13” x 9” baking pan (I used a large oblong corning glass casserole dish with a lid instead to keep from having to use foil), cover with foil.
  • Bake for 45 min.
  • Remove foil (or the lid) and sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and extra parmesan cheese if desired
  • Bake uncovered for 5 min.
  • Let stand 10 minutes before serving.
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