I think everyone must have that one person in their family whose food defines comfort for you. For most, it’s probably their mother. But for me, it was my uncle Hugo. Hugo was a big Italian man who served giant antipasti platters and perfectly prepared seafood dishes. He was the only one in my family who could convince me to down big servings of broccoli and cauliflower when neither were favorites of mine. His secret? A quick cheese sauce. And to this day, I love those two vegetables with a nice drizzle of cheese sauce.
Hugo loved to cook. He often would make our New Years Day dinner. We would gather in the townhouse he shared with my aunt Deborah and cousin Whitney and eat till we were all sleepy. Good times.
I honestly cannot remember if Hugo ever made baked ziti for us, but I could definitely imagine this being a creation of his. And considering that my aunt’s signature dish is eggplant Parmesan, this sounds like something that probably appeared on their table at sometime or another.
Anyway, I was craving a cheesy, ooey, gooey plate of baked ziti the other day. You know, the kind of ziti where the ricotta and marinara just melt together in your mouth in perfect harmony. That is the kind of dish that warms you up like giant arms folded around your belly on a cold winter day.
Honestly, baked ziti is something I rarely order in restaurants. Why? Well, when there are dozens of delicious items on the menu that combine unusual and exotic flavors, why would you order plain, old baked ziti? It’s the same reason I wouldn’t order other comfort foods like macaroni and cheese or grilled cheese. Still, when you want something tasty, quick and comforting, these are the meals that deliver every time.
Nonetheless, I wanted to be sure I could have my ziti without an extra slice of guilt (with all that cheese, this can be loaded with calories if you aren’t careful). I also wanted to add a little protein to balance it out a bit more. As a result, each serving is just under 500 calories and the half-portion of meat in each packs a tidy little protein and iron punch. If you wanted to add more iron to this dish while still keeping it under 500 calories, a cup of cooked spinach (drained well) would do the trick.
Being that this is a great comfort food, at least to me, I thought this dish would be perfect to share at Meeta’s Monthly Mingle, hosted by Meeta of What’s For Lunch, Honey?
Beefy Baked Ziti
1 cup (8 oz) dried ziti
1/2 lb ground beef
1 cup marinara sauce
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
3 oz mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cook the ziti in boiling water, according to package directions. Brown ground beef in a skillet over medium heat. Pour off excess grease.
Layer ground beef, ziti and marinara sauce in an oven-safe casserole dish. Stir together. Add the ricotta in dollops and stir in. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan.
Bake for 15-20 minutes until cheese is melted.
About the Author (Author Profile)Sarah W. Caron is a freelance writer, editor and recipe developer. Her work has appeared in countless online and print publications including iVillage, BELLA NYC Magazine, Yum for Kids magazine and more. She lives in Connecticut with her two kids, two beagles and husband.
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