Today, for me, was the first official day of Autumn. We got our first good frost, but luckily by the time I left the house half of it had melted in the sun. Cold days equal comfort food, “Time to fatten up for the long, cold winter!” says my genetic programming! So today I whipped up a not so quick but simple family favorite.
Baked ziti has so many variations I’m gonna try to leave the ingredients kinda vague, with only a few suggestions.
*This dish takes about an hour of baking time, plus noodle boiling and prep. Plan accordingly and set a timer!
What you’ll need ( modifications acceptable, of course!):
It’s time to use Mr. 9×13 inch baking dish again! remember him from my Potato Ham and Cheese bake?
A pound of your favorite ziti-like noodle:
I actually argued with Hubby about using what our grocery store calls ziti because most of the prepackaged brands use a textured noodle. The box labeled Ziti has a smooth noodle. Anyway, I like the little ridges on Penne Rigate when I make it.
One can/jar of your favorite tomato spaghetti sauce (approx. 15-24 ounces) we use the whole thing!
Cheese! Sauce, shred, grated, whatever floats your boat, Baby! (Amounts can vary depending on cheese-lover level.) We use both sauce and shred.
Meat! (yes, I know some of you are vegetarian, so either leave it off or use tofu or something…) Today’s meat is Tyson chicken patties, the frozen kind made for sammiches (I used six of them). I have actually made chicken tenders and used those as well, or you can flatten and bread some breasts. I wanted quick and easy, darn it! We haven’t tried beef, this dish seems best suited for the chickies.
Boil your noodles a little longer than if you were going to eat them straight out of the pot/strainer. “Al Dente” translates into “hard and leathery” after it’s been through the oven. Just don’t boil them ’til they’re soggy.
Drain your noodles and get ready to put all your stuff together.
Here is another bit of recipe variation that Hubby and I argue about: mix the sauce with the noodles, or pour it on top? Honestly, you can do either, but Hubby insisted on mixing this time, so we did.
Half the noodles, sauce, and cheese go in the dish, in this order. I like cheese sauce as well, so we’ll mix the tomato and cheese sauces together into a dark orange amalgam before pouring. If you want it to look pretty, save some plain sauce on the side to top it all.
*If you’re pre-mixing the sauce and noodles, stop to add the middle cheese layer, it helps avoid drying out.
Another layer of noodles, sauce and (LIGHT) cheese, go ahead and finish off the noodles. Try to get plenty of sauce around the edges unless you like leathery, crunchy noodles. I like a few crunchies, but I really love tomato sauce. If I get a leathery tomato sauce flavored noodle, BONUS!
Time for the chicken. If you’re using PRE-COOKED frozen patties, there are two options: use frozen or thaw to refrigerator temperature. Frozen takes longer to finish cooking, but if you like those crunchy edges, keep ’em solid. Do not heat your patties during thawing, or they’ll dry out while waiting for the cheese to melt.
*I do not suggest using raw chicken. Even when I’ve made my own tenders, I cooked them first, just because our oven is a little wonky and I can never tell if something is evenly cooked through.
Hubby likes to soak the chicken in tomato sauce while building the bottom layers. This is optional. But it’s what we do. So… yeah…
Cheese the whole dish and place it in a preheated 350F degree oven for about 1/2 hour to 1 hour, depending on your oven and if you thawed your patties. Thawed patties cook faster, obviously. You want melted cheese and hot chicken.
After it’s done cooking, let it sit and cool for at least 5 minutes or the roof of your mouth will burn off, as well as your tongue. Trust me, this makes the dining experience much less enjoyable. When using the patties, a serving is patty-sized, just take a spatula, use it to cut out portion sizes and serve.
This goes well with salad & breadsticks and leaves us all quite satisfied.
Leftovers are FANTASTIC for lunch! Plus, this dish usually makes everyone else jealous when they see what you’re eating!