Baked Ziti

Remember all that good travel karma I was talking about? Well, I guess I spoke too soon. Way too soon.

baked ziti | www.midwestniceblog.com

14-plus hours too soon. That’s how long is took me to get back home after getting through security at the airport. At most, it should’ve taken six, maybe seven, from airport to airport and then driving home.

It started with a delayed flight. No big deal, just a little later than usual. Then, when our flight did finally get in, the baggage didn’t show up for over an hour. Not ideal, but my dad was just circling the airport waiting for me.

When the conveyor belt started to move and bags started coming out, I could’ve jumped for joy. And then my phone rang.

My dad’s car had broken down on one of the laps around the airport. He was stranded. I had to rent a car. On Christmas weekend. At a moment’s notice.

baked ziti | www.midwestniceblog.com

Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

I managed to get a car (after paying through the nose for it) and get to my dad. Who was less than a mile from the airport. We had to wait for a tow truck to make an appearance. And we had to keep waiting. For two hours. For a tow truck that would never come. We eventually abandoned his car, with the hopes we could return the next day to rescue it.

It wasn’t all bad, mind you. I got to spend some quality time with my dad, we got to walk around a cute neighborhood in Chicago, and I ate string cheese for dinner and washed it down with a $1 bottle of wine. It could’ve been worse.

Once we finally got home, that’s when the real fun started. The next day we had to drive an hour to family brunch, then an hour back to my dad’s, then 2 hours the opposite way to return the rental car, and then 2 hours back to finally be home for the holidays.

After all of that in the first 24 hours of me being back in Wisconsin, I made the obvious decision to stay home for the entirety of Christmas Day. I didn’t go anywhere, I didn’t do anything. We napped, we ate, we watched Elf (and I made the sudden realization that I am, in fact, Buddy the Elf). I didn’t leave the house for a solid 36 hours. It was glorious. Comforting. Exactly what I needed.

baked ziti | www.midwestniceblog.com

And if you’re in need of comfort in the post-holidays daze, you’ll find it in this baked ziti. Warm, hearty, filling. It’s a dish that can be made ahead and reheated when ready or lazily put together as the relaxing end to a whirlwind weekend. You decide. I’m certainly not going to tell you what to do.

Baked Ziti

(Makes one very full 9×13 dish, adapted from here and here)

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground sausage, mild or sweet italian

½ one medium white onion, finely chopped

¼ cup grated bell pepper, preferably red or orange

¼ cup grated carrots

3 cloves fresh garlic, minced

36 oz. (about 2 ½ jars) marinara sauce

1-6oz. jar tomato paste

Italian seasoning, salt, and pepper, to taste

1 bay leaf

1 box ziti (or similar) pasta

1 cup ricotta

½ cup shredded parmesan

2 cups (roughly 16oz.) shredded mozzarella

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray, set aside. Put a pot of water on to boil, salting water generously.

In a large Dutch oven, brown the beef and sausage over medium-high heat. Lower heat to medium, remove and drain all but two tablespoons of the fat from the pan, drizzle in a little olive oil for good measure before adding the onion, peppers, and carrots. Cook until soft and the onions are starting to become translucent. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant.

Pour in the sauce and tomato paste, stirring well. Season the sauce to taste and add bay leaf. Return meat to sauce and allow sauce to cook down while the pasta cooks according to package instructions. Drain pasta and set aside.

In a separate bowl, stir together half of the prepared sauce, ricotta, and parmesan. Pour over noodles and stir to combine.

Using the remaining sauce, make a thin layer on the bottom of the pan, add half of the noodle mixture, pour more sauce over the top and sprinkle with half of the mozzarella. Repeat with remaining noodle mixture and sauce, ending with a generous sprinkling of mozzarella cheese.

Place in preheated oven and bake for 25 – 35 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly and golden brown. Let stand a few minutes before serving.

*To freeze: prepare fully but cover with foil when baking. Cool completely before freezing. When read to serve, remove from freezer and thaw in fridge overnight, uncover and cook in preheated oven for another 20 minutes.

baked ziti | www.midwestniceblog.com

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