I know for most of you life is hot and sweaty and it is high summertime and you are probably wondering what business I have posting a baked casserole-type dish. Let me tell you why: because this baked pasta dish is worth turning on the oven for even mid-June. Seriously. And you can trust me on that since I live in a house-without-A/C and really avoid oven usage in the summer months (it could totally be baked in this beauty, too, of course).
My friend Kim (posts on the comment thread of almost every post here as Kim in MD) told me about this recipe and because I am powerless to resist trying recipes she tells me about, I had to make it even amid the heat. It is ridiculous. In a really, really good way. The flavors are so different and unique for a baked ziti dish that it makes you want to make it for everyone you know so they can experience the awesomeness, too. And isn’t it pretty to look at? So pretty.
The pesto in the sauce adds a flavorful boost that tempts me to add pesto to anything and everything from here on out forevermore, and the fantastic accent of spicy (or mild, if you choose) lean turkey or chicken sausage and creamy ricotta and cheese is divine. Plus, there’s a healthy amount of spinach to make us all feel good about eating cheesy pesto pasta.
Make it. You’ll love it. (And if you just can’t bring yourself to eat pasta in the summer; bookmark this baby because while I eat it every Sunday from here to August, you’re going to want it come fall.)
I like to use lean turkey or chicken sausage - the kind that comes in removable casings and is not precooked. If you can't find this type of sausage, you could probably substitute another kind of bulk pork sausage just take care to drain any excess grease and be sure to use uncooked sausage (not the precooked, kielbasa variety). Also, you can sub rigatoni or penne for the ziti. If you are working out of a larger bag/tub of spinach, the 9 ounces is about the equivalent of 5-ish cups of spinach. That seems like a lot but it will wilt down in the recipe. You can use homemade or storebought pesto but if you choose storebought, make sure you like the flavor because the pesto flavor really comes through.
- 1 pound ziti noodles
- 1 pound Italian turkey or chicken sausage, casings removed
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 1 cup pesto
- 9 ounces baby spinach
- 15-ounces ricotta cheese
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella
- 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9X13-inch baking pan and set aside.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the ziti and cook until al dente. Drain.
- While the pasta is boiling, in a large 12-inch skillet over medium heat, add the turkey sausage, onion and garlic and cook until the sausage is cooked through, adding a bit of salt and pepper to taste (the amount will depend on the seasonings in the sausage). While it cooks, break up the sausage into smaller pieces. Drain any excess grease if needed.
- Add the diced tomatoes, pesto and salt and pepper to taste (I added about 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper). Simmer for 10-12 minutes. Add the spinach, stirring until it cooks down a bit into the hot sauce, 1-2 minutes.
- In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, 1 1/2 cups of the mozzarella cheese and 1 1/4 cups of the Parmesan cheese.
- In the prepared baking dish, pour in the drained noodles. Dollop the ricotta mixture over the top of the noodles. Spread the sauce over the top and sprinkle with remaining cheese (1/2 cup mozzarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan).
- Bake until heated through and golden around the edges, about 20 minutes. Let stand 5-7 minutes before serving.