Skillet Baked Ziti with Sausage

Like many of you, much of my free time in December is devoted to cookie baking, candy making and numerous other holiday-related kitchen projects. It’s not unusual for my sink to be overflowing with dirty dishes before the day is half over. By the time dinner rolls around, I’m lucky if I can see the counter through the mess. The very last thing I want to do at that point is create more dishes while I prep dinner.

Truthfully, if it were just me, I’d probably end up eating cereal (or cookies) for dinner the whole month of December. But Shane doesn’t buy into either of those options as a viable dinner plan. And while he’s more than capable and completely willing to fend for himself, it makes me happy to cook for him, so most nights I do. Over time I’ve been building a repertoire of these one-pot/skillet meals; they’re the perfect solution to the desire for a home-cooked meal without a lot of time, effort or dirty dishes.

Skillet Baked Ziti with Sausage

I can’t remember the last time I made baked ziti using a more traditional method, but this skillet version is so good I may never make it any other way again! You brown some Italian sausage in your pan, add canned tomatoes to make a quick sauce then throw in the pasta to let it cook. I remember the first time I cooked pasta directly in the skillet I was skeptical, but I’ve done it a hundred times now and it always comes out great! The only trick is to stir it every so often to keep it from sticking to the pan.

Once the pasta is tender, heavy cream and cheese are added (I said this was easy, not necessarily healthy :) ) and the baked ziti is finished in a very hot oven. I feared the dish might dry out at such a high temperature, but that wasn’t the case at all. Every bite was creamy and cheesy, the very definition of comfort food in my book. It definitely beats a bowl of cold cereal, that’s for sure!

Skillet Baked Ziti with Sausage
from Pasta Revolution by America’s Test Kitchen

{Note: the recipe suggested a nonstick skillet for this recipe, but I made it in a stainless steel pan without any problems.}

1 (28-oz) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 lb Italian sausage (hot or sweet), casings removed
6 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups water
12 oz ziti
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 chopped fresh parsley
4 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 475 F.

Add the tomatoes to the bowl of your food processor and pulse until there aren’t any large pieces left, about 12 pulses.

Set a 12-inch skillet over medium heat and add the sausage. Cook until the sausage is no longer pink, using a wooden spoon to break the sausage up and stir occasionally. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook just until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes and the salt (if you’re not using a nonstick pan, now is a good time to scrape the bottom of the pan to release the browned bits). Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the mixture to simmer gently for about 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes don’t taste raw anymore.

Add the water and pasta to the pan (the pan will probably be quite full, just stir gently to prevent overflow). Cover the pan and turn the heat up to medium to medium-high (adjust as necessary to maintain a vigorous simmer). Cook, stirring frequently to prevent the pasta from sticking to the bottom of the pan, for about 15 minutes, or until the pasta is tender. The pasta will not have absorbed all the liquid in the pan.

Add the heavy cream, Parmesan cheese, and parsley to the pan. Stir to incorporate, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Top the pasta with the mozzarella cheese then transfer the pan to the oven and bake for about 10-12 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and browned.