Baked Ziti with Sausage

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Baked Ziti with Sausage

This baked ziti with sausage is a MAJOR family pleaser. It’s similar to meat lasagna but without the fuss, easy enough for a weeknight but also special enough for company, and it makes a great prep-ahead potluck dish.

Sausage Baked Ziti

People often say to my kids, “You must love having a mom who cooks all the time.” The kids jokingly lament that it’s not as great as it seems. When I’m developing recipes, we eat the same dinner for several nights in a row (whether they like it or not), and when I’m working on desserts, we order pizza. But when I was testing this sausage baked ziti and serving it night after night, absolutely no one complained; it’s a MAJOR family pleaser.

Loaded with Italian sausage, which packs a ton of flavor, it’s similar to meat lasagna without the fuss, easy enough for a weeknight but also special enough for company, and it also makes a great prep-ahead potluck dish. While the baked ziti is in the oven, throw together a big Italian salad and warm some bread, and a comforting, make-everyone-happy dinner is served.

What you’ll need to Make Baked Ziti with Sausage

how to make baked ziti

Before we get to the step-by-step instructions, a few words about the ingredients:

  • Ricotta cheese is a traditional addition to baked ziti, but I leave it out because it has a tendency to get dry and grainy when baked. I use heavy cream to add richness instead.
  • For the mozzarella cheese, I recommend using whole milk mozzarella; it melts beautifully. You can purchase a plastic-wrapped brick of mozzarella (pictured above and sold in the dairy case) and shred it yourself. (To make it easier to work with, pop it in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes prior to shredding.) Or, to save time time, use pre-shredded mozzarella; just be sure it is whole milk rather than low fat. Avoid fresh buffalo mozzarella, which is best suited for salads.
  • Many grocers sell bulk Italian sausage (pictured above), which is simply ground sausage without the casings. If you can’t find it, you can ask your butcher to take the meat out of the casings or do it yourself.

How to Make Baked Ziti with Sausage

Begin by boiling the ziti noodles in salted water until very al dente, about 7 minutes. (The pasta will continue to cook in the oven so you want to undercook it just a bit.) Drain and add the pasta back to the pot. Set aside.

how to make baked ziti

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.

how to make baked ziti

Crumble the sausage into the pan and cook, breaking apart with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned and just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a plate.

how to make baked ziti

Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and set over low heat (if you don’t have enough fat in the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil). Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft but not browned, about 1 minute.

how to make baked ziti

Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar and red pepper flakes and simmer for 10 minutes.

how to make baked ziti

Add the heavy cream, 1/3 cup of the Pecorino Romano, and basil to the pan.

how to make baked ziti

Then stir in the cooked sausage.

how to make baked ziti

Carefully pour the contents of the sauté pan into the large pot with the pasta and gently stir to combine.

how to make baked ziti

Spoon half of the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded mozzarella and half of the remaining Pecorino Romano.

how to make baked ziti

Spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and Pecorino Romano.

how to make baked ziti

Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and browned, about 15 minutes.

how to make baked ziti

Sprinkle with more basil and serve.

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Baked Ziti with Sausage

This baked ziti with sausage is a MAJOR family pleaser. It’s similar to meat lasagna but without the fuss, easy enough for a weeknight but also special enough for company, and it makes a great prep-ahead potluck dish.

Servings: 8-10
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 50 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ziti noodles
  • 1.5 lbs ground spicy or sweet Italian sausage (or removed from casings)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano Reggiano) cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil, plus more for serving
  • 8 oz whole milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 2 cups)

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the ziti according to the package directions for very al dente, about 7 minutes. (It will continue to cook in the oven so you want to undercook it just a bit.) Drain and add the pasta back to the pot. Set aside.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425°F and set the oven rack in the middle position.
  3. Heat a large sauté pan (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat. Crumble the sausage into the pan and cook, breaking apart with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned and just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a plate. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and set over low heat (if you don't have enough fat in the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil). Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft but not browned, about 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, sugar and red pepper flakes and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the heavy cream, 1/3 cup of the Pecorino Romano, cooked sausage, and basil to the pan; stir until evenly combined. Carefully pour the contents of the sauté pan into the large pot with the pasta and gently stir to combine. Spoon half of the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded mozzarella and half of the remaining Pecorino Romano. Spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella and Pecorino Romano. Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with more basil and serve.
  5. Make Ahead: This dish can be assembled and refrigerated, covered, up to 2 days in advance. Since the dish will be cold, the baking time will need to be increased. To bake, cover tightly with aluminum foil and place in a 425°F oven for 25 minutes, then uncover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cheese is lightly browned and the pasta is hot throughout.
  6. Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The dish can be frozen unbaked. When you’re ready to cook it, defrost in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then proceed with the Make Ahead instructions above.

Pair with

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (10 servings)
  • Calories: 613
  • Fat: 38 g
  • Saturated fat: 18 g
  • Carbohydrates: 43 g
  • Sugar: 6 g
  • Fiber: 3 g
  • Protein: 25 g
  • Sodium: 913 mg
  • Cholesterol: 111 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Reviews & Comments

  • This dish was absolutely delicious. So flavorful and overall pretty straightforward to make. Plus, you can’t go wrong with Jenn’s helpful step by step instructions. I wasn’t sure about the “no ricotta” part, but I didn’t miss it at all! I used half spicy sausage and half mild because I was worried it might be too spicy for my taste, and that worked out perfectly for me. It was also so convenient to assemble this in the morning, put in the frig, and then pop it in the oven at dinnertime! I had to bake mine about 15 minutes longer than what the make ahead recipe stated to be sure it was fully heated through. I am a huge lasagna fan, but this was 100 times better. Immediately printed this recipe out and put it in my copy of Jenn’s cookbook! Fantastic!!!!

    • — Patricia on February 4, 2021
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  • This recipe is so easy and delicious. I’ve made this several times now and actually have never deviated from the ingredients or instructions. Ziti is my favorite pasta and this recipe just makes a good thing better.

    • — Kate Hoffman on February 3, 2021
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  • This recipe is an absolute MUST if you’re craving pasta and want something quick and easy. I typically enjoy my food a little spicier so I add extra red pepper flakes, but other than that I followed everything to a T! This ziti reheats quite well in the toaster oven as leftovers as well. This recipe has become a staple in my cooking routine.

    • — Dan Scofield on February 3, 2021
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  • I’m known for my lasagna- it’s the dish people always ask me to make. No more! I’ve made this baked ziti over and over, and everyone LOVES it. I’ve even made it a number of different ways (turkey Italian sausage, different mixes of Italian cheeses, even – gasp – bottled sauce once in an emergency.) and it’s still good!

    • — Susan Miller on February 3, 2021
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  • Everytime I ask my family what they want for their special day (birthdays, graduating from 4th grade, etc.) they always say Baked Ziti. I’ve made it dozens of times by now, and there is nothing to change. There are many other OUAC recipes I’ve made and many second places, but Baked Ziti is still #1.

    • — Ben Olson on February 3, 2021
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  • I love this Ziti recipe…it is the only Ziti recipe that my husband and sons will eat. I don’t mind riccotta cheese, but everyone else don’t like it. It’s the texture I think that they don’t like, so when I made this recipe, they went nuts over it. I love the creaminess of it and have never added any dairy product before to other recipes, so was really pleasantly surprised at just how moist and good it was! One thing too is that I have never tried fresh basil, and I”m 66 years old! I have never known the “deliciousness” of using it…OMG what a difference in taste it makes!!!
    I always make us a pan for dinner and then my kids take home the leftovers…they say it’s even better the next day! I can’t send a photo because I have a flip-phone and although it can take pictures, I can’t get them into the computer, so sorry bout that! Anyhow, great recipe thanks for sharing! Sharon C.

    • — Sharon Cotter on February 2, 2021
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  • This recipe is one of my “go to” ones when I’m craving something Italian. It’s the perfect comfort food, and easy to make, freezes well and great for company. Don’t let the heavy cream calories make you think twice, we only live once!

    • — Monica Mears on February 2, 2021
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  • This recipe is a keeper! The intensity of the flavor can be managed by your choice of sausage (I like Johnsonville Hot Italian). In case the mixture isn’t quite as moist as you’d like, add a little of the pasta cooking water before baking.

    • — Amy on February 2, 2021
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  • We had to move it off the table to stop eating it. Delicious recipe and I love that it did not include ricotta. Used my pressure cooker to make the noodles and dried oregano in replacement of basil since I was out. I’m a huge fan of making noodles in the pressure cooker since they are ready in a fraction of the time. Perfect balance of creamy goodness and sausage.

    • — SEA Fischer on February 1, 2021
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  • This is an awesome potluck or meal train recipe. I made it for a neighbor yesterday and she texted me how much her family appreciated the “comfort food.” It’s so delicious and transports well. Another keeper recipe from Jenn.

    • — Jo Ann on February 1, 2021
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  • This recipe really surprised me. I’ve made many versions of this throughout my life, but this was far superior. Part of what surprised me was that the ingredients were pretty close to what I had always used. The difference is swapping the ricotta for cream. Aso, I believe layering the cheese and adding the pecorino enhanced the flavor. Because I made this on a whim and didn’t want to go to the grocery store, I used what I had at home, but I will definitely follow EXACTLY the recipe next time. I used a good quality store marinara so cheated on the sauce which I believe would be better. I also did not have fresh basil, but again, that would have made it that much better. I also got lazy and didn’t use all the garlic in the recipe, but next time will. My version was still a 5 star, so the next time I make this correctly, an additional 6th star will need to be added to the recipe rating! Thank you for always providing thorough, excellent, exact directions.

    • — Carin Feekes on February 1, 2021
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  • This was absolutely delicious! I made exactly as written with sweet Italian sausage. I always look for San Marzano tomatoes if I can find them. I made this meal for another family as part of a meal train and I got a text shortly after I delivered it that it was devoured by their family of five to rave reviews. This is a definite crowd pleaser and travels well. Thanks Jenn! Your website is my go-to place to look for recipes!

    • — Sara Jenkins on February 1, 2021
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  • This is the only baked ziti I use anymore- easy and delicious! Since we haven’t been able to use our gym for the last 9 months, I’m trying to make our favorites a little lighter. Last night I made this with spicy poultry sausage and “Skim Plus” milk and we barley noticed a difference. The true sign of a great recipe 😊

    • — Kathy on January 31, 2021
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  • Hands down just the best, it is GOOD! The cream makes it. This is a great dish for potlucks, and company. Easy, simple, and not all that expensive to make. Several people have asked for the recipe, then they tell me how much they like this site.

    • — Ruby on January 31, 2021
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  • So easy, tastes great, and freezes well. This has made several easy meals for me, and I haven’t gotten tired of it.

    • — Sue D on January 30, 2021
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  • Just made this tonight for dinner, randomly found on Pinterest! I liked that it didn’t have ricotta cheese because my husband doesn’t really like it! We loved it. Served with a side of homemade garlic bread. Soo good and pretty easy to make!

    • — Kayla on January 30, 2021
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  • I have made this several times and really love it, it’s kind of like a lasagna but easier to put together. I cut it in half and bake it in a 9″ x 9″ pan, and some changes I’ve made over time is to use only .5 lb. of sausage for the half recipe (instead of 1.5 lb) and also I like spicy pork or chicken sausage so I cut back slightly on the red pepper flakes (which are really needed, but can be too much for my family if the sausage is very spicy). I sometimes add sliced mushrooms when cooking the sauce and they go very well with this dish. Love the fresh basil! Grateful for this recipe.

    • — Sandy on January 30, 2021
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  • Love this recipe. The fresh mozzarella and basil elevate the dish – both are a must. I use spicy Italian sausage and cut it chunks. Having used Chef’s recipes for the last 3 years, it’s no surprise to me now that following Jenn’s well crafted and perfected recipes has everyone now asking me how I became such a good cook in the last few years. And so many more recipes to explore.

    • — Kathy on January 30, 2021
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  • Took a chance and made this recipe for the first time for friends we invited for dinner. I really wasn’t sure if it would work without the ricotta, but so many great reviews convinced me to try and I’m glad I did. Everyone loved it! It was both hearty and refined. The heavy cream added silky, lucious sauce and the sausage added hearty fare. I made garlic bread and our friends brought salad!! Delish!

    • — Amy Lennert on January 30, 2021
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  • This is one of my favorite Pasta recipes, I make this for my Grandchildren ,and they Love it. ,and good for them !1Easy to make. and makes me Happy to see them Happy !!Thanks Once upon A Chef !!

    • — Lorraine on January 30, 2021
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  • This was so good and easy to make. My picky kids even loved the flavor and there were plenty of leftovers!! The fresh basil made this recipe and I used a spicier sausage too.

    • — Karen Brennan on January 29, 2021
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  • This is the best, most kid friendly pasta dish. I take it unbaked to my babysitter’s house and have her finish the baking to feed my and her children dinner. Always all gone by the time I get back. Too bad for me, but great for them!

    • — JLee on January 29, 2021
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  • I have made this multiple times and I really enjoy it. It’s quick and easy and makes for terrific leftovers.

    • — Rachael on January 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is one of my favorite dishes! Everyone in my house loves this dish so much that it’s rare I ever get to enjoy any leftovers.

    I highly recommend getting the brick of mozzarella and shredding over getting pre-shredded cheese. The fresh cheese is one of the elements that really makes the dish. Also, I don’t think this is the recipe to skimp on the milk with a lower fat version. If you’re making this dish – it’s in your best interest to fully commit and go with the heavy cream. You will NOT regret it.

    • — Kat on January 29, 2021
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  • Love this dish…easy to make ahead for large family gatherings, freezes and reheats beautifully, and always gets compliments!! I add about 1 cup of our favorite marinara to is as my family likes it a little saucier and serve it up with a salad and garlic bread…yum!!! Another winner…thank, Jenn!!

    • — Ilse on January 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • I made this ziti as written except I only used a pound of sausage and added 8 oz. of mushrooms and it was wonderful! I will be making this again and again. After having Covid my taste and smell are diminished which has made cooking difficult. Having tried so many of your recipes it is reassuring to know I don’t need to tweak them because they are perfect as written. Thanks, Jenn!

    • — Sarah on January 29, 2021
    • Reply
  • This is a new favorite here. The thing I liked best about it was that it froze well and reheated beautifully. A perfect make ahead, or something to take to a friend in need. It feels like a “special occasion” pasta.

    • — K McKim on January 29, 2021
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  • My kids LOVE this recipe, even the two who normally don’t eat meat! It’s so simple, even for a very novice chef like me and the flavors come together in the most amazing way. I’ve made it for several friends and everyone raves about it.

    • — Lili on January 29, 2021
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  • A friend made this for me just after my second baby was born, and it was so delicious and comforting. When I asked for the recipe, I discovered this amazing stash of recipes!! Onceuponachef has become a staple resource for me. Back to the recipe… I’ve made it several times since my friend made it for me. Once I forgot to add the cream to the sauce and just poked holes amongst the noodles and poured in the cream. Still turned out amazing. I usually add more sausage than called for. Make this, and you will be in heaven!

    • — Taryn Lund on January 29, 2021
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  • We loved this dinner! It was relatively fast, and certainly easy to make. I always add Italian seasoning tomato paste and then a touch of water to my gravy (sauce). Yummy!

    • — Tami Arnold on January 29, 2021
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  • This is one of my favorite ‘go to’ recipes for family, company or gifts. Always turns out great!

    • — Connie MacKinnon on January 29, 2021
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  • Love this recipe. Easy to make and great for a large party. I thought that it was just a little heavy on the sausage for my taste so next time I make it I’m going to cut down on the amount of sausage by just a bit. Otherwise it’s perfect.

    • — Judy Paraventi on January 28, 2021
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  • This is a new family favorite. Six of us (us, kids, grandkids) polished off a full recipe in short order

    • — Jeri Jo Brokaw on January 28, 2021
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  • This is a great comfort food recipe to make when it’s cold outside. My family likes Italian sausage and the sausage gives this dish a nice kick. Try it tonight!

    • — Elizabeth Gunderson on January 28, 2021
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  • I like the idea of using heavy cream instead of ricotta, we don’t care for ricotta texture either.

    • — Angie B on January 28, 2021
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  • This Baked Ziti with Sausage recipe is by far the best pasta dish I have made, and I’ve been cooking for a long time! It’s not just because it’s fairly easy and quick to make, but the combination of ingredients are well balanced and give what could be an ordinary pasta dish, a burst of flavor and texture. The spicy Italian sausage and red pepper flakes give it a nice kick, that’s not overpowering. I’ve made it for all kinds of occasions and it’s always a hit as well as a popular request from my family. I follow the recipe as it is written and have found that I don’t need to change a thing. If I’m short on time, I use a jar of pre-made marinara sauce, which doesn’t take away from the flavor. The recipe yields a generous amount and makes for a hearty leftover meal. This is a recipe that I know I will continue to make for family and friends as we celebrate the art of cooking!

    • — Anna L Bribiescas on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • I’ve made this a few times now and it’s an excellent, very easy to make recipe. I can’t seem to find ziti so use penne rigate instead. This has become my new favourite baked pasta.

    • — Micky on January 28, 2021
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  • Absolutely my favorite pasta dish ever!!!!!

    • — cj hoos on January 28, 2021
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  • So good! Will definitely make again. And love that there are leftovers!

    • — Patsy Ellis on January 28, 2021
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  • I rarely serve pasta dishes as my family doesn’t seem to care for them. I needed something that would feed a small group and decided on this recipe. I am so happy I did as it has become one of my families favorites! So delicious, the flavors meld together and the seasoning is perfect! Thanks for another wonderful recipe!

    • — Chris on January 28, 2021
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  • I made this recipe for brunch and it was such a hit, everyone asked for the recipe! The second time I made it I had photo copies of the recipe ready and all family members asked again! 🙂 It is now on our regular rotation! Nice served with a large tossed or. Caesar salad and fresh warm rolls! So much flavor! The first time I made it with spicy sausage but I found the dish a little too spicy for my taste…since then I’ve only made it with sweet sausage. You’ll find your balance as everyone’s spice levels are different!

    • — Anita Rodobolski on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • We love it!! This is my go to pasta recipe. I have made this numerous times for family and a great dish to deliver to friends. Quick and easy to put together. It’s always a hit.
    I wouldn’t change anything!

    • — Wendy on January 28, 2021
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  • Love it!!!! This is my go to pasta recipe. I have made this recipe numerous times to deliver to friends and to serve my family. Always a hit.

    • — Wendy on January 28, 2021
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  • Thank you so much for a great recipe. I made this using Jovial Gluten Free pasta since my husband has Celiac disease. My 15 yr old grandson, who is a huge pasta lover, devoured this. He said that he couldn’t even tell that it was gluten free. I really appreciate that you have gluten free alternatives on your website. This is just one of many of your recipes that I have made for my family.

    • — Angela Brady on January 28, 2021
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  • This was a wonderful recipe—and plenty of food for a crowd. Everyone was very impressed!

    • — Susan Stella on January 28, 2021
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  • This is a yummy family fav that I made today for the umpteenth time!!! Soooo good and soooo easy for a during the week meal when there is not much time for fuss! I normally mix with ground beef and hot Italian sausage. Love love love! ♥️

    • — Jackie on January 28, 2021
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  • Fantastic recipe! The entire family and friends loved it! Made ahead for kid party a second time and everyone came back for seconds 🙂

    • — Missy Rugh on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
    • This has become one of my go to recipes! I made it often for my older neighbors during the lockdown when most of them couldn’t get out and were used to going out and not cooking! They all loved it!

      • — Linda Jones on January 28, 2021
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  • I have made this recipe several times for my husband and myself. We are empty nesters and can get four meals from the quantity. I bake it then freeze half. We have two meals from the first half and a few months later another two meals. All I have to do is add a salad and some garlic bread and it’s dinner. Easy, simple, and very delicious. Also great for company.

    • — Catherine on January 28, 2021
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  • A family favourite! Easy, wouldn’t change a thing.

    • — Jenee Mealey on January 28, 2021
    • Reply
  • We don’t eat meat. I’ve made this dish with cottage cheese to add bulk to it. Still delicious.

    • — Trinidad Madrigal on January 28, 2021
    • Reply

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