Olive Garden Who? I fell in love with pasta dishes in my mid-twenties. I was in the school system and was on a board of a Charter School in which I served as the Administrative Designee (fancy way of saying acting principal) and was always on the go. I was up at 5 a.m. and didn’t lay my head on a pillow until 10 p.m., so cooking was not a focus of mine. I frequent Olive Garden at least once a week for my love for pasta. But as soon as I left the educational field and pursued corporate America, I noticed I had more time on my had to dedicate to cooking. I didn’t go out as much as I did so I would recreate restaurant quality dishes with my own Kae Louz twist.

This Signature Baked Ziti came from a recipe that I developed watching someone very close to me (my bestie Latoya) make Beefaroni. I was there watching how she began to layer the cheese and the beef and macaroni mixed so when it baked it look almost like a hamburger macaroni and cheese. Of course, it was delicious, and I wanted to recreate this for myself, especially if I had a date night and wanted to impress a dude without doing a lot of cooking and taking up so much time.

In recreating the recipe, I noticed a couple of things I wanted to change and wanted to add. Instead of using elbow noodles, I used ziti noodles. I made Kae’s signature pasta sauce, as well as fresh ingredients, multiple kinds of cheese including ricotta cheese and vegetables including kale and spinach, and now it has taken on a life of its own. The bae (EJ) enjoys it, and the in-laws want the recipe for themselves.

Once the fragrant aroma of fresh herbs and spices, garlic and butter in the air, and the cheese is bubbling, you will think twice about going out and purchasing pasta – especially Baked Ziti!


Cook time 30 minutes

Ingredients 

1 lb. ziti noodles
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 lb. ground beef or turkey
½ lb. of Italian sausage
½ cup onions diced
14.5 oz diced tomatoes (my favorite is basil and garlic)
2 tbsp of brown sugar
½ cup green bell peppers
½ cup yellow and red bell peppers
½ cup scallion
1 tbsp of dry parsley
1 tbsp of basil (fresh or dried)
1 tbsp of oregano
2 cups of fresh spinach
2 cups of fresh kale
½ tsp of paprika
½ tsp of garlic powder
½ tsp of favorite all-purpose seasoning (I use my own seasoning blend)
½ tsp of red pepper flakes
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ cup of ricotta cheese
¼ cup of sour cream
12.5 oz of your favorite pasta sauce (I use my own tomato sauce)
6 cups of your favorite cheese mix ( I use an Italian blend, Colby Jack, Pepper Jack, and Cheddar)
1 cup of milk
2 tsp of flour

 

Instruction

  1. Preheat oven to 375 F
  2. Prepare the ziti according to package, except cook it past al dente
  3. Rinse with cold water to cool noodles, drain and season with the salt and pepper and the olive oil
  4. In a large deep skillet, brown meat over medium heat
  5. Add onions, scallions, garlic, all the bell peppers, red pepper flakes, parsley, basil, oregano, garlic powder and other seasonings and cook until onion is tender.
  6. Drain the fat and return to the heat
  7. Stir in the diced tomatoes, pasta sauce, brown sugar leave on low heat
  8. Put aside 2 cups of the meat sauce to use for later
  9. In a medium saucepan, place olive oil and flour, cook flour until lightly browned
  10. Whisk in the milk and mix well until the mixture does not show lumps
  11. Add 2 cups of the cheese mixture and melt and set aside
  12. In a large bowl stir together ricotta cheese, sour cream 1 ½ cup of the cheese mixture and stir until its well combined
  13. Toss in the noodles and melted cheese and stir gently until noodles are coated
  14. Add in the reserved cup of the cool meat sauce
  15. In a 9×3 casserole dish spread out a thin layer of the meat sauce
  16. Then layer with noodle mixture, then the meat sauce and then cheese. Repeat until filled
  17. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cheese is melted and bubbly
  18. Garnish with chives and chopped fresh basil
  19. Allow it to rest before serving. Pair with your favorite salad and bread of choice.