Baked ziti is an Italian dish that is based on that round, tubular pasta called ziti. Like many other pasta dishes, it's ridiculously easy to make, very versatile, and super-tasty.

Now, Baked Ziti of Pain is an excellent and interesting ziti recipe, but I'd like to generalize a bit.

What you will need to make baked ziti is some ziti pasta, spaghetti sauce, meat and vegetables, spices, and cheese. I generally get 1 lb dry ziti, a flavored spaghetti sauce, hot italian sausage, onions, green peppers, red pepper, minced garlic, and mozerella cheese.

First, go ahead and start preheating your oven to 350-400 F. That way you won't forget.

Cook the ziti. It's usually good to put a little salt in the water, like they recommend. You want the ziti to be on the undercooked side of al dente. That is, you should try it and think to yourself, "this should cook another minute or so". That way, when you bake it, it'll be the right consistency.

While the ziti's cooking, prepare your meat and vegetable mix. If you're really creative, you can do this while you're making your own sauce, but I'm not that industrious. Generally you want to fry up the meat, vegetables and spices until both meat and vegetables are thoroughly cooked. In my example, I heat up some oil in a skillet and add minced garlic. When the garlic starts browning, I toss in about 1/2 lb of hot italian sausage. A little bit of browning, and in go the sliced onions and green peppers. Cook unil the sausage is thoroughly cooked, and hopefully the onions and peppers are softening up. (Vegetables can often cook further in the oven, but don't trust meat to cook too much.)

Hopefully at this point, you now have your meat and vegetables, your cooked pasta (once you drain it), and sauce. Mix all of these together in a large bowl or pot, like the one you cooked the ziti in. Add additional spices if desired.

Now you have a choice. You can either now mix cheese directly into the ziti, or save it for layering in just a minute. Or you can do both. Your choice.

Now you'll need a greased pan, or more than one, big enough to hold the ziti. Pour in a layer of ziti mix, add a healthy layer of cheese. Repeat as necessary until you run out of ziti. Cover with tin foil. Bake for about an hour, or until the cheese on top is brown and bubbling. If you have cheese mixed in with the ziti, it's also good if you can tell that the cheese has melted throughout.

The cheese-use options with baked ziti are considerable. As I mentioned, you can mix some of the cheese in with the ziti mix before pouring into the pan. You can also add one or more layers of cheese on top of the ziti mix. Some people recommend a lasagna-like multi-layer ziti. I personally prefer mixing about 2/3 of the cheese in with the ziti and putting the other 1/3 on top, but I like a lot of cheese. You can also experiment with different types of cheese in different places.

Here are a few options to consider. Traditional Italian ziti, I'm told, has sausage and onions, with ricotta and mozerella cheese mixed in, a layer of mozerella in the middle, and a layer of mozerella and parmesean (and/or romano) on top. Be careful about not using too much ricotta, as it can make it grainy. Onions and green peppers with any one of chicken, sausage, or mushrooms works great.

As a final note, one of the great benefits of this dish is that, like lasagna, it stores and reheats very well and can provide lunch for days if stored properly.

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