Baked Ziti or Penne . $1.49

This little dish of baked pasta has become almost ubiquitous, but have you noticed some are great and some just mediocre? Here, a couple little tricks and some great shopping tips will help make sure yours is the one that amazes, and at a budget price.

Baked Ziti - The fresh Mozzarella makes all the difference!

Baked Ziti – The fresh Mozzarella makes all the difference!

Call it Baked Ziti, Baked Penne or Baked Mostaccoili, we’ve all made it, right? Boil some noodles, throw on a jarred sauce, layer in some mozzarella and a little Kraft cheese on top…and likely the ingredients are all in the pantry or fridge.

If you’d like to take a few extra steps and a little care, add a few more ingredients, this dish can shine. Here are the critical things that make a difference. While many of you may already know this, I can tell you from visiting homes of friends that not everyone does! Shhhh, don’t tell anyone I said that…

  • Use fresh mozzarella in the dish. This is absolutely key and makes a huge difference.
  • Be very careful about the length of time the noodles are cooked – they must be just about al dente, but not done enough so you’d want to eat them.
  • Have everything ready to assemble and use the noodles well drained, but still piping hot and get it into the oven immediately.
  • Watch the casserole and use the baking time as a guide only – this should come out when hot and bubbly, and if not, it will be bloated inside, dry and crusty on the top and mediocre.
  • If time allows, make your own pasta sauce – if you use pasta sauce on a regular basis, maximize your time by doubling or tripling the recipe and stashing in ziplocs in the freezer. This step, alone, though is not as critical as the others – a jarred sauce can be spiced up easily at home with a few herbs.
  • Consider adding Italian Sausage to the mix – even a bit adds a lot.
  • Make this healthier by roasting vegetables: chunks of bell pepper, onion, mushrooms and adding to the mix. Place vegetables on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and roast at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes, turning once about half way through the cooking time.

“Wait a minute…” you say, “Won’t that cost more?” Not necessarily if you shop well. Read Strategies, below, for how this budget meal can be put on the table for a song. Even though I like to serve this with a fresh vegetable, especially Oven Roasted Broccoli, sometimes I double up the carbs and make our family’s Parmesan Toast.

Parmesan Toast

Parmesan Toast

Baked Ziti

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print
  • 1 pound of High Protein or Whole Grain Pasta
  • 1 24 ounce jar of Pasta Sauce (If not using a jarred variety, you’ll need about 3 cups home-made)
  • 6 ounces of fresh mozzarella
  • 10 ounces of Italian sausage (optional)
  • Herbs – use 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning, or about 1/4 each of basil and oregano
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Get out a two-quart casserole. Have all ingredients prepared and ready to go:

Cut Italian sausage into small meatball size pieces. Start in cold pan, bring up to heat, brown. Add about 1/2 cup of water and lid, cook for about five minutes. Take off lid and let water evaporate.  Set aside.

Cut mozzarella into 1/2 inch by one inch cubes. If this is a struggle because the Mozzarella is too soft, try cutting it with string or dental floss.

Cook pasta according to directions in good amount of salted, boiling water until a little less than al dente. This is the very important part – the pasta should not be quite done. Stir gently now and then.  Drain well, shaking, but do not rinse. Place back into hot pan.

Add in the sausage, the sauce, the herbs and the mozzarella, give a stir and put in a two-quart casserole dish.  Sprinkle with Parmesan and bake JUST until cheese is melted and the casserole is hot and bubbly, about 10 to 15 minutes, no longer than 20 at the most. Leave it in the oven for as short of time as possible, making certain it is hot and bubbly, for the best results.

from the kitchen of

Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read Strategies for additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Nutrition for the Baked Ziti:

Per Serving: 454 Calories; 20g Fat (38.9% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 50g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 48mg Cholesterol; 956mg Sodium.  Exchanges: 3 1/2 Grain(Starch); 1 1/2 Lean Meat; 3 Fat.

Put Your Own Spin on It:

  • I always serve with a vegetable side and a salad, never bread with the high carb content!
  • You can add all kinds of veggies to Baked Ziti:  sauté onion, minced carrot, celery, etc.  Toss in parsley for a fresh flavor.
  • You could even add a touch of red wine to the tomato sauce.
  • You can’t go wrong with Italian sausage – use bulk or in the casing or a combination of both.

My PayOff:

A big dish with leftovers at a huge budget price – plus it’s very kid friendly.  The whole dish of baked Zita was about the same price as a can of Chef Boyardee Spaghettios.

Discussion:  Baked Ziti Anyone??  How do you dress yours up?


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