Back when my kids were in elementary school in Iowa, one of my favorite places to take them out to dinner was a new restaurant on the South side of Des Moines called Fazoli’s. This is a franchise chain that is growing with restaurants across the country. It’s a “fast food” kind of Italian place. The kids loved it because it was eating out and eating some of their favorite foods and I liked it because it cost maybe a dollar more than going to a fast-food burger joint.
Their favorite dish at Fazoli’s was Baked Ziti. After we had it a couple of times I thought to myself that I could cook it at home for even less money. And, surprisingly it’s easy, inexpensive and really good. Plus, it’s a casserole dish that can be made the evening before and then popped in the oven to cook after a day’s work and provide a terrific family meal—just add a small salad and maybe some garlic toast and you’re good to go.
A couple of Cheap Bastid thoughts first:
If you’re ever kicked yourself over not having garlic toast try this: Use hot dog buns! We keep a package frozen in the freezer all the time. You pop them in the microwave to thaw (about 40 seconds on medium covered with a damp paper towel), plop a bit of margarine on top, sprinkle a bit of salt and garlic powder and maybe even some parmesan cheese, stick ‘em in the oven for about 8-10 minutes and you’ve got garlic toast!
One other thing before the recipe. You’ll notice by the picture that I use Hunt’s canned spaghetti sauce. I sure do and I’ve done it for a few years now. There’s a couple of good reasons. The first is cost. I can get it for 99 cents at the grocery or dollar store (actually my grocer had it for 79 cents last week). Ragu, Prego, etc. are all going to be $2-3 or more.
Second, Ragu and Prego run about 220 calories per 1 cup serving versus 190 for Hunts because Hunt’s has 1 gram of sugar to 26 grams for Ragu and 24 grams for Prego. Hunt's doesn't taste sweet like other sauces (spaghetti sauce isn't supposed to taste "sweet) and so it's easier to build more flavor in it. Besides, if I want to sweeten it, I can add honey. I’m going to take any sauce and “doctor it up” with spices like oregano, cumin, crushed pepper and garlic to make it taste better.
OK, here’s the recipe:
Lazy Dad Lasagna (Baked Ziti)
1 lb ground beef OR Italian sausage (or you could use a half lb of each)
1 28 oz—(can not jar) Hunt’s spaghetti sauce
1 bag “ziti” or penne pasta
12 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
Garlic, oregano, cumin, basil, salt & pepper
Cook pasta according to directions BUT for this recipe it should be al dente (fancy word for a bit underdone) because you’re going to bake it.
Brown the ground beef/Italian sausage and drain. (If using ground beef season it while browning—garlic, salt, pepper, oregano and cumin. It makes a big difference in taste.) For this recipe, I used ground beef and put some fennel seed and crushed red pepper in it to give it a bit more of the Italian sausage flavor.
Put the cooked pasta in a big bowl. Then add the meat and sauce. Add more salt, pepper, oregano, basil and garlic. How much? ENOUGH! Taste it! Plus, I like a little kick too—add a bit of chipotle, cayenne or crushed red pepper flakes (only 1, not all!)
Add the mozzarella and stir, stir, stir to mix everything together. Taste test it again & add spices if needed.
Dump all this into a big baking/casserole dish. Put a light layer of parmesan on top, cover and put in the oven for 45 minutes hour at 375. Everything should be hot and the cheese “melty”. (I like to uncover it for about the last 10-15 minutes to make the tope “crusty” like lasagna). Put back in for another 10-15 minutes if needed.
Serve it on plates, let it cool just a couple of minutes, then really, really enjoy. This is a family meal that everyone’s going to like.
The Cheap Bastid Test: So how did this do on budget? Well a pound of ground beef was $1.95 (although I used ¾ lb.). Figure about $2.50 if you use Italian sausage. The pasta cost $1. I threw in about 20 cents worth of onion with the meat. The sauce was $1 and the cheese was the priciest part of the meal at $2.49. So we spent $6.64.
This dish provided 7 meals (meals not servings), dinner for 3 one night, dinner for 2 the next night and lunch for 2 the 3rd day. So that’s less than $1 per meal. Not bad. Add salad and garlic bread at dinner and you add about another $.50 per serving. That’s economical eating and, quite frankly is about $.75-$1 a serving less than lasagna.
That’s the Cheap Bastid Way: Eat Well! Eat Cheap! Be Grateful!