by Debra Wysopal

It’s week three or so of social distancing, so I’m starting to focus on pantry cooking. When this is all over, make this one as written – it’s a light take on Ziti, use fresh mozzarella if you can find it. Either sweet or spicy fresh sausage work in this recipe, or you can omit the sausage altogether for a vegetarian version. If you have basil now, super, use it, if not – it’s fine. Oh, and this one is a great make-ahead recipe, too. Back when we had playdates, this was always in heavy rotation, super kid friendly and sophisticated enough for adults. Check out Cover & Bake by Cook’s Illustrated for a myriad of make ahead, simple recipes such as this one.

Serves: 4-6 Prep Time: Cooking Time:
Nutrition facts: 200 calories 20 grams fat
Rating: 5.0/5
( 7 voted )


  • 1 lb box of ziti
  • 1 lb hot or sweet italian sausage, out of casing
  • 2 TBS olive oil
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1 (28 oz can) crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 TSP red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 TBS coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 8 oz or more fresh mozzarella (torn or shredded)
  • 1 ounce parmesan cheese (grated, about 1/2 cup)


  1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Bring 4 quarts of salted water to boil in a dutch oven, cook pasta until al dente.  Strain, reserving1/4 cup of pasta cooking water.  Return pasta to pot and stir in 1 TBS of olive oil. Set aside.
  2. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a 12 inch non-stick skillet  over high heat, until shimmering.  Add the sausage and cook, breaking it up into smaller pieces and until it loses its pink color - about 5 -7 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes; cook until fragrant - about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes and simmer until slightly thickened, about 10  minutes. Off the heat, stir in basil and season with kosher salt and ground pepper.
  3. Add the tomato sauce and reserved pasta-cooking water to the pasta, stir to combine.  Pour half the pasta mixture into a 9 x 13 inch baking dish or similarly sized shallow casserole dish.  Sprinkle with half the mozzarella and half the parmesan.  Pour the remaining pasta on top and sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Stir gently to combine. Cover with foil and bake until the cheese melts, about 15 - 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and continue to bake until the cheese begins to brown, about 5 or so more minutes.  Serve while hot! 


To Make Ahead: Follow the recipe through step 2, adding the reserved paster water to the sauce before adding the basil. Refrigerate the cooked pasta and tomato sauce in separate bowls, covered for us to two days.

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