Recipe Review

This Is the Most Flavorful Meat Sauce I’ve Ever Made, Thanks to 1 Smart Ingredient

updated Mar 17, 2021
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Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

Nagi of RecipeTin Eats is a beloved Aussie food blogger who specializes in making recipes that are easy, relatively quick, and affordable — without skimping on flavor. When we included her in our garlic bread showdown, it was clear from reader comments that she has a large and loyal fan base, and after skimming through many of her recipes it’s not hard to see why.

One of the recipes I recently came across was Nagi’s baked ziti, and I instantly knew I needed to include it in our showdown. I was particularly intrigued by the seasonings she uses in her tomato sauce: fennel seed, paprika, cayenne, onion powder, dried herbs, and a pinch of sugar. Plus, she includes ricotta in her recipe, which isn’t always a given with baked ziti. I simply had no choice but to try it.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

How to Make RecipeTin Eats’ Baked Ziti

You’ll start by cooking your ziti until it’s still quite al dente — about 2 minutes less that the package suggests. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Then, start the sauce: Cook onions and garlic in a large skillet until the onion is translucent, then add the meat (you can use either beef, pork, or a 50/50 blend) and break it up as it cooks.

When the meat is cooked through, add the seasonings and cook for a just a few minutes. Next, add tomato purée, water, basil, oregano, and sugar. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat and cook for about 10 minutes. Once the sauce is finished, add two cups to the pasta in the pot and toss to coat.

Finally, begin assembling the ziti. Spread the coated pasta into a 9×13-inch baking dish. Dollop ricotta on top and pour the remaining sauce over the ricotta. Top with mozzarella and Parmesan, then cover the dish loosely with foil and bake for 20 minutes at 350°F. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes until the cheese is golden.

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

My Honest Review of RecipeTin Eats’ Baked Ziti

The flavor-packed tomato sauce was everything I wanted it to be and more. Nagi says she included fennel seed because it’s a classic ingredient in Italian sausages, and I found it to be a brilliant addition. Combined with the heat from the cayenne and paprika plus the addition of dried basil, oregano, and a bit of sugar, I could have eaten that tomato sauce all on its own. I’ll absolutely be adding fennel seed to all my meat sauces from now on.

I tested this recipe with a 50/50 mix of ground beef and ground pork, but I think it would taste equally as good with all beef or all pork — it’s truly the seasonings that bring it all home. The flavor of the sauce is robust and hearty, and when paired with the creaminess of the three different cheeses, it’s pretty irresistible. Nagi’s ziti felt very reminiscent of a lasagna (I attribute this mostly to the layer of ricotta), but the best part was that it didn’t require the same amount of work. I would absolutely make this recipe again.

If You’re Making RecipeTin Eats’ Baked Ziti, a Few Tips

  1. Don’t skip the fennel seed. Nagi mentions that the fennel seed is optional, but it contributes so much good flavor to the sauce. Unless you’re really not a fan of fennel, I would recommend adding it.
  2. Finish under the broiler. The crackly, gooey melted cheese on top of any baked pasta dish is really one of the best parts. If your ziti isn’t browning the way you’d like, go ahead and broil it for 1 to 2 minutes, and that should do the trick.
  3. Toss the pasta in more sauce, if you’d like. The recommended two cups of pasta sauce was enough to lightly coat the pasta, but I would have preferred to have a bit more directly on the pasta and less on top of the ricotta.

Rating: 9.5/10

Credit: Photo: Ghazalle Badiozamani; Food Styling: Pearl Jones

Have you tried RecipeTin Eats’ Baked Ziti? Let us know in the comments!