Baked Ziti

This comfort food dinner will please the whole family. Use fresh oregano to make it extra special.

Baked Ziti

Recipe and photograph by Kimme Hargrove

16 ounces penne, ziti or rigatoni pasta, cooked to package directions
1 Tablespoon olive oil
½ cup onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound ground beef
8-ounce can tomato sauce
Juice of half a lemon
2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped (or 2 teaspoons dried oregano)
1½ teaspoons salt, divided
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
4 Tablespoons butter
2 cups milk
4 Tablespoons flour
¾ cup grated Parmesan
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
6-8 ounces mozzarella cheese (shredded or fresh)

Heat oven to 350°F.

Cook pasta according to package directions (and then save up to one cup of pasta water to thin cheese sauce if needed). Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium high. Sauté onions until slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, and sauté for 30 seconds. Add beef, and cook until browned. Add tomato sauce, lemon juice, oregano, 1 teaspoon salt, sugar and cinnamon. Stir until combined, cook for 2 minutes, then take off the heat, and set aside.

In another large skillet, melt butter on medium heat. Add flour, and whisk for 2 minutes until incorporated. Slowly whisk in milk, and continue to whisk until sauce has thickened. Whisk in saved pasta water to thin sauce if needed. Sprinkle in Parmesan cheese, ½ teaspoon salt and pepper, and whisk until combined.

In a large nonstick, ovenproof skillet, Dutch oven or greased 9×13 pan, mix cooked pasta with cheese sauce until coated. Spoon meat sauce over the top, then sprinkle with mozzarella cheese.

Bake for 25 minutes or until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

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