There’s an ice storm coming. Remember that episode of “Little House on the Prairie” where Pa ties a rope from the house to the barn so he can tend the livestock during a blinding blizzard?

This isn’t going to be anything like that.

A Middle Tennessee ice storm usually means some broken tree limbs, maybe a short a power outage and an insane rush to the grocery for “essentials.” People will wait in the grocery line for 15 minutes to buy a frozen pot pie, eight rolls of toilet paper, a bag of Oreos and some Jiffy Pop.

My favorite meal for a night like this is Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage. Gooey cheese. Spicy browned sausage. Really, I could stop right there, but I love to experiment with different mix-ins (i.e. peppers, onions, mushrooms), cheeses, herbs and pasta sauces, especially ones that include red wine.

Oh, how I crave this stuff. There should be a 12-step program.

P.S. I’m going to kick myself for saying this, but the sausage isn’t essential. If you’re a vegetarian or just trying to eat healthier, feel free to leave it out. There, I said it. Now, I’ve got to go scrub off the shame.

Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage

Adapted from “Cook’s Country” (April/May 2005)

Serves 6

  • 1 pound ziti, dried
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 jar spaghetti sauce (your favorite)
  • 1 pound Italian sausage (sweet, mild, or hot), sliced
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) grated mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a 13 x 9 x 2-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray, and set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add Kosher salt, and boil pasta for 1 minute less than package directions. Drain, and transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Pour your spaghetti sauce over the pasta, and toss. Set aside.
  4. In a large skillet, brown the Italian sausage over medium heat. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan, and add the garlic and red pepper  flakes. Cook for about 30 seconds.
  5. Add the sausage to the pasta mixture.
  6. Pour half of the pasta mixture into your prepared baking dish. Sprinkle with half of each cheese. Pour remaining pasta into the dish, and top with remaining cheese.
  7. Bake until cheese is golden brown and bubbly, about 20 minutes.