Baked Ziti with Sausage Ragu

After the craziness of the holidays and frantic cookie baking and various prep, it’s nice to have a little more time to devote to a different kind of baking—pasta. In Italian everything sounds even better, and pasta al forno—baked pasta—is a glorious comfort food that’s perfect for a weekend family meal or for when you’re up to entertaining again. If you’d like, much of the work can be done in advance so all you have to do is bake it when you’re ready to enjoy. This makes for a much more relaxed meal than a holiday feast.

Baked pasta always is a favorite, and according to Michele Scicolone, cookbook author and Italian culinary pro (who contributed this recipe to Real Food), even before Italian kitchens were equipped with ovens, cooks would bring their pan of pasta to the local bakery to cook in the bread ovens when the day’s baking was done. We have it much easier today! You can cook in the comfort of your own home as the nuggets of juicy pork sausage meat flavor this classic baked ziti recipe. Then uncork a bottle of Chianti or Zinfandel and raise a glass to comfort food. Salute!

Baked Ziti with Sausage Ragu

Serves 6

1 lb. Italian-style pork sausages, casings removed
2 Rbsp. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ c. dry white wine
2 28-oz. cans tomato purée
4 fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces

1 lb. ziti or penne
1 c. ricotta cheese
8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into small dice
1 c. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano

To make ragu, chop sausage meat fine. In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add meat and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until meat is lightly browned. Add wine and bring to a simmer. Cook until liquid evaporates. Stir in tomato purée and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer, then turn heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, until ragu is thickened, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in basil.

Bring at least 4 quarts of water to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and 2 tablespoons salt. Stir well. Cook pasta, stirring occasionally until pasta is firm yet tender to the bite. Drain pasta, then immediately toss with 3 cups of the ragu. Spoon half of the pasta into a shallow 3½ quart baking dish. Drop spoonfuls of ricotta over ragu. Sprinkle with mozzarella and half of the grated cheese. Spoon on 1 cup of sauce. Top with remaining pasta and another cup of ragu. Sprinkle with remaining ½ cup of grated cheese.

Cover with foil. (Can be refrigerated for several hours or overnight.)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake covered with foil for 45 minutes. Uncover and bake for 15 to 30 minutes longer or until center is hot and sauce is bubbling around edges. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Nutrition info (per serving) Baked Ziti with Sausage: CALORIES 902 (356 from fat); FAT 40g (sat. 17g); CHOL 84mg; SODIUM 2542mg; CARB 94g; FIBER 9g; PROTEIN 47g

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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her school-age son, who used to eat beets and Indian food, will one day again think of real food as more than a means to a treat—and later share this with his younger brother.