|1 1/2 cups||(12 ounces) ricotta cheese|
|3 cups||(750 mL) mozzarella cheese, shredded|
|1½ cups||(375 mL) Parmesan cheese, grated|
|2 cups||(500 mL) Maple Leaf Natural Smoked Ham, chopped small|
|1/4 cup||(60 mL) fresh basil, finely chopped|
|1/2 tsp||(2.5 mL) salt|
|1/2 tsp||(2.5 mL) pepper|
|2 tbsp||(30 mL) extra-virgin olive oil|
|3||cloves garlic, finely minced|
|1/4 tsp||Optional (for spice lovers):red pepper flakes (more to taste, if desired)|
|Ziti and sauce:|
|900g uncooked ziti noodles|
|2||(1 L) Jars cooked tomato sauce|
Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 400° F.
For the cheese mixture:
In a large bowl, mix together ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, 2 tablespoons ham, basil, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes (if using).
In a small bowl, mix together olive oil and minced garlic. Pour the olive oil and garlic mixture over the cheese mixture and using clean hands or a large spoon, mix until evenly combined. Set aside while you make the pasta and sauce.
For the pasta:
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta to the pot and cook until the noodles just begin to soften, about 5-6 minutes. Before draining, reserve 2 cups of the cooking water in a bowl; drain the pasta.
Add the noodles back to the pot (no need to wash it), and add the tomato sauce and reserved pasta water to the pot. Stir until the pasta is coated evenly with sauce.
Ladle half of the pasta into a 9X13-inch deep casserole dish. Dollop half the cheese mixture, in large spoonful’s, over the pasta. Sprinkle evenly a layer of ham over the cheese mixture.
Prepare the final layer, ladle the remaining pasta, then the ham and top with the remaining cheese mixture.
Cover the casserole dish with lightly greased aluminum foil. Place the casserole dish on a rimmed baking sheet (to catch any bubbling over) and bake until hot throughout and bubbling, about 25-35 minutes.
Remove the foil paper cover for the last 10 minutes to let the cheese get golden brown. Let the pasta cool for 15 minutes and then serve.
Make-ahead and/or to freeze:
Prepare the recipe as directed above but do not bake. Cover the dish tightly in plastic wrap followed by aluminum foil.
Refrigerate for 24 hours or freeze for up to a month. To bake, thaw the pasta overnight in the refrigerator.
Unwrap the casserole dish (both the plastic wrap and the foil) and re-cover with lightly-greased aluminum foil. Bake as directed.
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