Ever had one of those days when you arrive home exhausted only to realize there’s nothing to fix for dinner? Happens to me all too often. I know, I’m supposed to be the quintessentially prepared person who never runs out of anything, always has a plan in place with menus and meals all ready to go. Don’t believe it. I struggle with overload and too-much-day-left-at-the-end-of-the-energy as much as anyone.
And that’s exactly what happened to me not too long ago. Worse, I’d invited a neighbor for dinner. A recent widower, he didn’t hesitate to accept a home-cooked meal and the company. I’d had a busy day and about the only thing I could think of making for dinner was “reservations” but eating out was the last thing any of us wanted to do.
I went to the freezer to see if anything had materialized in there since my last desperate search for dinner. Of course I knew better, but thought I’d peer into the frozen abyss anyway. And, would you believe, way in the back I found a dinner-sized portion of Baked Ziti? Eureka! I couldn’t believe my good fortune.
Last August 20 (I know because I wrote the date on the container), I made this pasta dish for the sole purpose of freezing it in one-meal portions to assess if it could hold up in both texture and flavor for a good, long time. It does, and I knew this because we’ve enjoyed it several times since I made it. And I was surprised out of my mind that we’d not eaten all of it. (Clearly, I need to make one of the freezer door Table of Contents lists one reader shared with us recently.)
But now, nearly four months after it was prepared, I’m faced with a decision. Do I try to pass this one last frozen entree off as a freshly cooked meal, or make a mad dash for the supermarket? I decided to go for it as I fired up the oven to 400 F., popped that oven-ready container in and set the timer. An hour later we were eating the most delicious, fresh-tasting baked pasta dinner with garlic bread and green salad. I even shocked myself by serving such a beautiful meal with so little effort.
I couldn’t wait to share this recipe with you. It makes a lot, and that’s what makes it ideal for the freezer. May you always have a pan of Baked Ziti in your freezer to carry you through your occasional dinner crisis.
- 1 pound dry ziti pasta
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 2 26-ounce jars spaghetti sauce
- 6 ounces Provolone cheese, sliced
- 1 1/2 cups sour cream
- 6 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Boil the pasta according to package directions, about 8 minutes or until al dente. Drain. In a large skillet, brown the onion and ground beef over medium heat. Add spaghetti sauce, and simmer 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish (OR you can split between two casserole dishes or smaller containers and freeze for later). Layer as follows: 1/2 of the ziti, Provolone cheese, sour cream, 1/2 sauce mixture, remaining ziti, mozzarella cheese and remaining sauce mixture. Top with grated Parmesan cheese.
At this point your Baked Ziti is ready for the oven. If you intend to freeze for later, cover containers with lids or wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Once frozen these freezer meals will hold for up to 6 months.
Bake for 30 minutes in the preheated oven (longer if starting out frozen), or until cheeses are melted. Allow to stand for 15 minutes before serving. Optional: Garnish with chopped basil or parsley. Serves 8 to 12.