Baked Ziti w/ Roasted Tomatoes, Sausage & Spinach
This is not your mother's baked ziti (or at least not MY mother's).
This is the comfort food of my dreams. This feeds an army, so if you are having guys or kids over for Sunday dinner, this dish fits the bill. Don't bother if you are having a ladies luncheon.
Roasting the tomatoes may seem like a pain, but it's so easy and you can do this days before you assemble the dish. Roma (plum) tomatoes were on sale for .99 a pound, so this was the perfect excuse to make this dish.
Of course you can use a can or jar of tomato sauce, but roasting the tomatoes makes this dish rich and delicious.
To roast the tomatoes: (Roma or cherry tomatoes are best)
I used 12 Roma tomatoes, cut in half, lengthwise (you will have 24 halves).
Place on a foil lined baking sheet and drizzle w/ olive oil and kosher salt (feel free to add chopped fresh herbs if you like).
Roast the tomatoes in a 425F oven for 20-30 minutes until tomatoes are bubbling and blistering.
When cool enough to handle, slip off the skins of the tomatoes and discard.
You can store the tomatoes in a container for 3 days in the fridge.
This is like a lasagne. There are no real rules or exact recipe. You can skip the sausage, you can add more mozzarella cheese, or you can skip the ricotta. So don't be scared to make this. If you follow my recipe, you will be sure to have rave reviews.
For the Baked Ziti:
3/4 lb. cooked penne or ziti
3 best quality pork sausage links (any flavor you like...I use fennel), casings removed
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 lb. fresh spinach (not baby spinach)
1 cup of fresh basil leaves
1 cup of cubed or shredded mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup of grated Parimigiano Reggiano cheese
16 oz. fresh ricotta cheese
1 tsp salt
2 cups of the roasted tomatoes
Oil a large gratin dish (9 x 13 Pyrex works).
In a large, heavy skillet, cook the sausage with the onion and garlic in olive oil, breaking the sausage up with the back of a spoon. Cook for about 5 minutes on medium heat until onions are softening and the sausage is no longer pink.
Add all of the roasted tomatoes to the sausage, onion and garlic mixture and break up tomatoes with a spoon. Simmer sauce for 2 minutes.
Add the sauce mixture to a big bowl and add the fresh spinach & basil leaves. The spinach will wilt as you mix it in with the hot tomato sauce.
Add the ricotta cheese, 2/3 of the parmesan and beaten egg to the bowl and mix together with the sauce. Season with salt & pepper.
Last step: add the cooked pasta along with the mozzarella cheese and give a good mix to combine everything together. The mixture should be thick and pink in color with nice streaks of green throughout.
Spoon everything into the oiled casserole and sprinkle with some extra parmesan cheese.
Bake in a 375F oven for 30-40 minutes until bubbling and golden.
Wait 15 minutes to serve and enjoy!