This is the second post in a five part series called Expecting Nugget! I took the liberty to insanely stock our freezer with lots of good eats in preparation for our first baby. I figured I would share them all because everybody needs good freezer meals!
I have a standard meat and/or mushroom lasagna recipe that I ship off to friends and family who might need a few easy meals. Maybe it’s a new baby or just a major life event, but they always get a big container of my lasagna. I usually use some version of this lasagna recipe when I make it.
The nice thing about the lasagna is that it’s great the day you get it, but if the person is set on meals, they can also freeze it for months and then just toss it in the oven when needed.
Rather than make the same lasagna for me and Betsy, I decided to do a twist on it by baking it into a ziti. Making ziti like this is actually way easier than making a lasagna because you just toss everything together. No need for fancy layers!
This recipe makes enough for three containers of ziti and each of those will probably serve four people. In other words, it’s a lot of good food, but if you have freezer space then it’s a no brainer!
1) For cheese mixes, combine cottage cheese, eggs, and lemon zest in a bowl. Set aside for later. Also grate mozzarella and Provolone cheeses.
2) For sauce, add a drizzle of oil to a large pot or skillet over medium high heat. Add ground beef and brown well for 6-8 minutes, breaking up the beef as it browns.
3) Add mushrooms, onions, and garlic after beef browns. Turn heat down to medium and season with salt and pepper. Cook until veggies soften, another 6-7 minutes.
4) Add tomatoes to the skillet along with oregano and red pepper flakes. Bring to a simmer and turn heat down to medium-low. Let the sauce simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up tomatoes. If the sauce gets too thick, thin with a little water.
5) Cook ziti according to package. When ziti is boiled, drain and stir in all the meat sauce. Stir to combine.
6) Lay out three 8×8 freezable baking dishes. Add 1/6 of the pasta mixture to each pan. Top with 1/6 of the cottage cheese mixture in each pan and sprinkle with a tiny bit of mozzarella and Provolone. Repeat with a second layer of pasta mixture, cottage cheese mix, and more grated cheese.
If baking immediately: Cover dish with foil and bake at 350 degrees For 20 minutes. Then uncover and bake for 10-15 more minutes.
For freezing: Let dishes cool completely, then cover with a double layer of foil and freeze for up to three months.
To reheat: Move ziti straight from freeze to oven at 350 degrees F. Let bake for an hour, covered, to thaw completely and warm through. Then remove foil and let bake for an additional 15 minutes or so until ziti is bubbling in the center and warmed through.
Big Flavor Sauce
I like to use a mix of beef and mushrooms for my tomato sauce when I make baked pastas like this. But, you could absolutely make it your own. All mushrooms would be fine (I would use like 3 pounds) or you could do a beef/Italian sausage mix?
It’s really your call. When you start the sauce though, just be sure to use a skillet or pan that’s big since we’ll be adding a lot of stuff to it.
Brown the meat first in a little oil over medium-high heat and then add in the veggies.
Stir it occasionally as the veggies cook down and the meat browns.
At this point, you can also season the mix well with salt and pepper and a pinch of red pepper flakes for heat.
Then add in the diced tomatoes and oregano.
At this point, turn your heat down to medium-low and let this sauce simmer for 20-30 minutes. If it gets too thick, add some water or something to it to thin it out.
Also, taste it regularly as it simmers and adjust it to your liking. It’ll need salt and pepper, but you could also add other dried herbs like basil or marjoram. If you’re feeling frisky, splash in some red wine!
Between the cottage cheese, mozzarella cheese, and Provolone cheese, there are three pounds of cheese in this recipe. We are making three big casseroles, but you can do the math. It’s not light on the cheese. (And yes… I like cottage cheese in my baked pastas instead of ricotta.)
For the cottage cheese mixture, add in some eggs and lemon zest for a little citrus flavor.
Pasta and Such
Two pounds of ziti is a lot of pasta. The pieces are thick and you’ll easily fill a 6 quart pot with the pasta and sauce.
Ziti takes the longest of any pasta I know of to cook so don’t worry so much about overcooking it. That’s why I love it for baked pastas because it won’t get soggy unless you just forget about it.
When the pasta is drained, just stir your sauce into the pasta for one big pot of deliciousness.
Making the Dishes
You should be able to find a three pack of the disposable freezable 8×8 containers at the store. These are perfect for this recipe.
While you don’t need to weigh out the ingredients, do be mindful that you need to be evenly distributing the ingredients. I like to try to portion out half of the pasta mixture and then divide that between the three dishes (1/6 of the pasta mix in each one).
Then I top that with 1/6 of the cottage cheese mix. Again, I just eyeball it but you get the idea.
A sprinkle of mozzarella and Provolone on top of that, then another layer of pasta, followed by more cottage cheese and grated cheese.
Each finished dish will be heavy!
Freezing and Eating
You can absolutely just toss these in the oven right away if you’re hungry. Cover the dishes well with foil and bake them for 20 minutes at 350 degrees F, then uncover them and bake for another 10-15 minutes.
More than likely though, you’ll want to freeze some of these dishes.
The most important thing is to make sure they cool down completely before freezing them. Just leave them uncovered at room temperature for 20-30 minutes until they are cool. Then cover them with a double layer of heavy duty foil and label and freeze them. They will keep beautifully for 3 months.
Reheating the frozen ziti is easy. Just toss it in the oven for about an hour. Then uncover it for another 10-15 minutes. It should bubbly and melted in the center.
More freezer meals!