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Help me add meat to my baked ziti

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I have great, easy ziti that I make. It's my friend's recipe and I'd like to add ground beef to it to please the crowd I'm serving. Rather than go with a different recipe, I'd like to try to work with this recipe because I love the sauce so much. It might seem funny because the sauce seems so simple. I'm posting it below. My thought is to nix the ricotta and egg mixture and add 1LB ground beef to the sauce, (my crowd doesn't love ricotta), but is that enough liquid? Thanks in advance for any advice.

Jen's Really Good Ziti
1 lg can crushed tomatoes
garlic (I use about 2-3 TB chopped)
Olive oil - enough to cover the bottom of the saucepan
Italian spices - to taste - usual suspects oregano, basil, few red pepper flakes
1/4 c pinot grigio
1 T sugar
pinch salt

1 box ziti noodles
15 oz ricotta
2 c shredded mozzarella
1/4 c parmesan
1/4 c milk

Cook noodles 6 min - keep undercooked a little. In large sauce pan, cook garlic in olive oil 2 min. Add wine and cook for about 5 min. Add sugar, crushed tomatoes, seasonings and salt. Cover sauce and let simmer until noodles are finished.

Combine ricotta, egg, 1 c mozzarella, parm, and milk in a bowl. Add this mixture to the ziti and 1/2 of the red sauce. Pour into a 9x13 . Top with remaining sauce and mozzarella. Bake at 350 for 45 min.

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  1. You could either make a quick ragu, browning the meat with the garlic, then adding the tomato and cooking till done, then proceeding as usual. If you choose not to use the ricotta, keep the mozzarella, maybe adding a bit more, and the sauce a little less dense than normal. Or you could make very small, hazelnut size meatballs, brown them, and add a separate ingredient to the basic recipe. You're also OK if you cut the ricotta down by even half, plopping little tufts here and there.

    1 Reply
    1. re: bob96

      Thanks, bob96! Good ideas....

    2. Just a personal taste but I would probably add a sweet Italian Sausage.

      1 Reply
      1. If they don't like ricotta I use sour cream topped with provolone for that layer.Sounds odd but it comes out really creamy.

        1. There's a dish I make for the buffet at parties that always seems to be a hit. It's made with:

          Tubetti Pasta
          Hand Crushed or Chopped Tomatoes
          Fresh Cubed Mozzarella
          Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
          Grated Asiago
          Small Chunks of Italian Sausage(Hot or Sweet) out of the casing.
          Olive Oil
          Chiffonade of Basil for garnish

          I stole the recipe from a very popular restaurant in Manhattan........

          2 Replies
          1. re: fourunder

            This sounds like exactly the kind of recipe I am looking for. Could you give more instructions on the method?

            1. re: ChristinaMason

              Ms Mason,

              Sorry for the delay, but this thread just reappeared on my radar a few minutes ago and I never saw the request before today.

              The recipe and method is actually very simple. I first had the dish at a Table to Table charity event that brought in about 25 well known restaurants, who each prepared two dishes from their restaurant's menu. This dish was made by Frank DeCarlo of Peasant, NYC... so credit really should go to him. My suggestion for you is to prepare all the ingredients and season as aggressively with as much red pepper flake as you can take. It makes a world of difference:

              First Prepare the Ingredients:

              * Chop Fresh Tomato Concasse. or use Canned Dice or Whole Plum(Hand Crushed)
              * Chop Fresh Garlic
              * Chop/Mince Onions or Shallots, both optional
              * Prepare Chiffonade of Fresh Basil Leaves
              * Grate Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Ramano, or both
              * Grate Asiago
              * Small or Fine Dice Cubes of Fresh Mozzarella (1/4-/12 inch)
              * Remove Sausage from Casings, or purchase in bulk out of casing.

              My family prefers to use hot sausage for this dish....plus the addition of red pepper flakes as noted above in the seasoning. To put together the dish, everything is cooked separately and assembled together at the end.

              Start your Pasta Pot with Salted Water

              Next, brown the sausage over medium flame temperature. I break off clumps of sausage from the links, or bulk, in my fingers shooting for less than bite size pieces that end up being a (1/4-1/2 inches) just like the Mozzarella Cheese. Lightly caramelized is best for tender chunks. All the browned sausage meat is kept in a mixing bowl, reserved on the side. By having various size chunks of meat, it gives a nice rustic appearance and presentation. When I'm near the end of my meat browning phase, just before the last pan, I would sautee any aromatics I have decided on. I do this at this time so they are not burned by any small bits in any previous pan heatings. I throw the aromatics right over the previously browned sausage meat.. At this point, during the last pan of browning meat, I throw the Tubetti/Ditali pasta into the pot (8-9 minutes) to cook . The last pan of sausage is transfered to the reserved mixing bowl.

              I like to serve this dish freshly made, not oven baked or reheated. By preparing all the ingredients beforehand, all you really need to do is toss them together to finish the dish.

              By now, the pasta is done ....and the heat from the pasta after draining is more than sufficient to reaheat the sausage meat, melt the cheese, soften the tomatoes and blend the dish together. I would season with salt after incorporating the cheeses, as the cheeses may affect the saltiness overall.

              * Take a larger mixing bowl that will hold all the ingredients
              * Place the reserved sausage meat and aromatics into the bowl
              * Place the drained Pasta into the bowl and allow to sit for a minute to reheat the sausage
              * Give a quick stir to mix the meat and pasta.
              * Add tomatoes and mix
              * Add the cheeses separately and mix
              * Mozzarella......mix
              * Asiago......mix
              * Parmigiano Reggiano....mix

              Taste and adjust any seasonings. I do not add any reserved Pasta liquid, but you may do so at this time when you taste and adjust the seasonings, with or without the liquid

              Transfer the mixed pasta and ingredients into your serving bowl or dish..... Drizzle Olive Oil over the dish and top with the Chiffonade of Basil. Sprinkle more cheeses if desired.

              If you like to add another level of color, I would suggest either fresh green peas or fine dice seeded zucchini......

              Very Simple. This is basically how I prepare any pasta dish for a party, or just simple family dinner, e.g., Broccoli Rape with Sausage and Pasta.....or even Carbonara....in steps and assembled.

          2. I always put smashed meatballs in my baked ziti. I make my meatballs, saute and finish cooking in the sauce. Then I take them out of the sauce, smash them and strew them around with the mozzarella and ricotta. You could add Italian sausage too. I call it deconstructed lasagna.

            2 Replies
              1. re: roxlet

                I like the way you think. I don't smash the meatballs, but what a great idea and I add sausage too. Ricotta will melt, if the crowd doesn't like ricotta, melt it down with some milk, it gives a wonder creaminess to the sauce.

              2. Hi amyvc-- even though I grew up in NJ I have never made baked zita. I know, hard to believe. Anyway, I would like to make your recipe for an event I need to bring a hot dish to. The usual issues of, I'd like to make it ahead of time, perhaps bake it the morning of, then reheat for that evening. Is this feasible? Can I even make it a few days ahead and reheat? Do you have any experience with this?

                1. Am I right in assuming that there's one egg in the ricotta mixture? (The ingredients list doesn't say) Thanks!

                  1. i think id just start off the sauce by browning the meat and build the rest of the sauce on top of it?

                    x2 on the sweet italian sausage use. but if you like the sauce, i wouldnt go about reinventing the wheel, just add in the meat!

                    1. Thanks! You've just given me a great idea for dinner!

                      1. One of the best dishes I brought to a potluck was ziti with sausage, something I'd never made. The crowd went wild, everyone wanted the recipe and it was delicious. Your recipe looks on point with only a couple differences in my own technique. (I can't hardly call it a recipe).

                        I do use provolone, mozz and parmesean. In the first version, there wasn't any ricotta, that came later. My sons too don't care for blobs of ricotta in their lasagne, so I now melt it out and thin it with marinara sauce. They get the flavor but don't notice the blob. Oh and no egg. Unless I'm making a stuffed shell or something where I want the ricotta to hold shape, then I don't do the egg. I used a large tin tossaway baking pan, so I was liberal with the seasonings. Zitti takes a lot of sauce, one can doesn't seem to be enough with a pound of ziti. In my case I sauced it well ( I made a large pot of marinara). Prior to transporting, I tossed the ziti in the marinara sauce, it absorbed so much of it! Added more sauce and sausage, added the cheeses and a drizzle more sauce, then baked it at the party. 350 until bubbly, being careful not to dry it out. Those large tubes of pasta really absorb sauce, so that's my main concern. To the final baked product, I added fresh basil and a side dish of finely grated parm.