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baked pasta

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Baked pasta can easily be made ahead and finished at your leisure

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Win at weeknight cooking with these two simple, fuss-free pasta recipes

Pasta may not be Southern, but it is, today, a frequent item in most of our shopping carts. Pasta, whether dried or fresh, is quick cooking and versatile, a weeknight cook's secret weapon.

These two pasta recipes are excellent candidates for dinner tonight or tomorrow: a ravioli dish that cooks up in minutes and a hearty baked ziti that can easily be made ahead and finished up at your leisure.

Refrigerated pasta is often an overlooked item in the grocery store. The fresh ravioli in the first recipe will cook within minutes, making it perfect for busy weeknights.

If you have a little extra time, do the prep work for the second recipe ahead of time and refrigerate. Come home, pop the casserole dish in the oven (you'll need to increase your cooking time) and while you unwind for a bit, let this comfort food bake. Add a salad and garlic bread, and you're set.

A helpful tip for both dishes is to remember is to set the water for the pasta on to boil before you begin to assemble the ingredients for the recipe. While you prep, the water will come to a boil and be ready to cook the pasta.


Cheese Ravioli with Artichoke Sauce
Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients
Kosher salt
1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 cup half and half
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 cup frozen peas (do not thaw)
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 pound refrigerated cheese ravioli
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves

Instructions
Boil 3 quarts of water in a large pot over high heat. Add 1 teaspoon salt to the water.

Combine the artichokes, half and half, garlic, red pepper flakes and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a large skillet and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover and cook until the artichokes begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the peas and continue to cook, covered, until warmed, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon zest and juice.

When the large pot of water boils, add the ravioli and cook as the label directs. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water. Drain the pasta well and add it to the skillet with the artichoke sauce.

Add the Parmesan cheese to the skillet and gently stir until the ravioli is coated. Thin the sauce, if desired, with some of the reserved cooking water. Stir in the basil. Serve and top with additional grated Parmesan.


Cheesy Baked Ziti
Note: If you're making this ahead of time, wait to heat the oven until you're ready to serve. Prepare the recipe through step 5, then refrigerate until ready to bake. Add 10 to 15 additional minutes to the covered baking time.

Serves: 4 to 6

Ingredients
1 pound dry ziti pasta
1 pound mild Italian sausage 
1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 (24-ounce) jar spaghetti sauce
1 (8-ounce) package shredded Italian cheese blend
1 teaspoon dried basil

Instructions
Heat an oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 9- by 13-inch baking dish with nonstick spray.

Fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Once the water is boiling, stir in the ziti and return to a boil. Cook the pasta uncovered, occasionally stirring, until it has cooked through, but is still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Drain well.

While pasta is cooking, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, stirring, until browned, about 10 minutes. Drain off excess fat and set aside.

Stir together the ricotta, egg, onion, garlic and oregano in a large bowl until well combined. Stir in the drained pasta and sausage, salt, pepper and 1 1/2 cups of the spaghetti sauce; mix well.

In the prepared baking dish, cover the bottom with about 1/2 cup of the remaining spaghetti sauce. Layer half of the pasta mixture, then 1/2 cup of additional sauce and half of the shredded cheese. Then top with the remaining pasta, remaining sauce and remaining cheese. Sprinkle with basil. Cover the dish tightly with aluminum foil.

Bake until heated through, about 20 minutes. Uncover; return to the oven and bake until cheese is melted, 5 to 10 more minutes.


Author image

Laura Tolbert, also known as Fleur de Lolly, has been sharing recipes, table decor ideas and advice for fellow foodies and novices on her blog, fleurdelolly.blogspot.com for more than eight years. You can contact her at fleurdelolly@yahoo.com.