This Italian-American staple doesn't have to be filled with sauce to be tasty, as this recipe will show. The creamy, cheesy sauce coats the pasta beautifully, and some Italian sausage, lots of cheese, and mushrooms provide both protein and texture. It's a refreshing change of pace from the heavier tomato-based ziti. For a heartier meal, increase the Italian sausage to 1 pound. Or, for a lighter option, use turkey Italian sausage. See the tips (below the recipe) for vegetarian and vegan options.
The ziti casserole is baked with extra cheese melted over the top. The recipe works without any tomatoes or marinara sauce, but feel free to add some diced fresh, sun-dried, or canned tomatoes to the sauce if you'd like.
- 3 cups ziti or other tube pasta, uncooked
- 1/2 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter or margarine
- 1 cup (about 4 ounces) mushrooms, sliced
- 1 green bell pepper, sliced, or a combination of red and green bell peppers
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 cups milk
- 2 cups shredded mild cheddar cheese, divided
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- Cook ziti according to pasta directions; drain and set aside.
- Heat the oven to 350 F.
- Grease a 2 1/2-quart casserole.
- In a skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage. Remove to paper towels to drain. Wipe the pan out with paper towels.
- Place the skillet over medium-low heat and add the butter. When the butter has melted and stopped foaming, add the mushrooms, green bell pepper, and onion; cook the vegetables until just tender.
- Blend the flour into the vegetable mixture, stirring until well blended and bubbly. Continue cooking for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Gradually add the milk and cook until the mixture begins to boil, stirring constantly.
- Continue to cook for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add 1 1/2 cups of cheddar cheese, the Parmesan cheese, and the pepper. Stir until the cheese has melted and the mixture is smooth.
- Stir the hot, cooked ziti and sausage into the sauce.
- Pour the pasta mixture into the prepared casserole.
- Top the pasta with the remaining 1/2 cup cheddar cheese.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbly.
Cooking Tips and Ingredient Substitutions
Great for large parties, this baked ziti can be modified in a variety of ways to fit most diets. Make it the traditional way as listed above, or try a vegetarian baked ziti by omitting the Italian sausage. The cheesy sauce makes for a satisfying meal without the meat.
To make it vegan, replace the milk with a can of tomato sauce, use vegan mozzarella and vegan parmesan cheese, replace the butter with olive oil and omit the Italian sausage. Voila, you have three dishes to serve up to your guests that fit any diet.