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Nello’s Sauce & Baked Ziti (I mean, rigatoni)

Phew, it is another crisp morning outside., and another frosty windshield. Though, when I checked the weather for today, it should be a nice afternoon! I laughed a little because it seems they are trying to get creative – rather than saying “clear skies” or “sunny” it said “abundant sunshine.” Not complainin’.

However, when I peeled myself out of bed to take Kona on her walk, she was not so eager.

I will hurry through some of my usual details as I am excited to share a recipe (below)

For breakfast, yet another PB and banana sandwich was enjoyed alongside my coffee this morning before I headed off to work.

Fitness class last night was good, it was a little different last night because we spent a good 10 minutes at the beginning doing a warmup that involved more “cardio” type activities. There were only 5 of us last night so that made it easier. And then we did 2 rounds of about 10 stations (1 minute at each). The extra warmup was nice, I was tired before we even started at the stations!

The 2 toughest stations last night were kettle ball swings (my abs were burning!) and wall sits. Oh, wall sits… I can usually handle them, but not for a minute straight. It was a tough one, but really good and my heart rate was definitely up last night!


A couple of weeks ago, a customer of mine had noticed my last name was Italian (this happens a lot) and he wanted to share his website with me. He has an amazing website dedicated to Italian culture including food, wine, his travels, history, etc. It is fantastic, and you really should check it out – Nello’s Italy. (He has also been mentioned on Kath’s blog over at Kath Eats Real Food)

He makes, jars, and sells his own red sauce and is local here in NC. Obviously, I absolutely had to try because I adore red sauce, so I ordered a couple of jars to test it out. I figured my baked ziti recipe would be the perfect way to try this sauce… and the verdict is in – I love it!

I liked that is is somewhat a thinner sauce (rather than a chunky or something real heavy). You can order the sauce directly from his site here.


I paired my pasta with a side salad – and you better believe I will be enjoying left overs for lunch!

Now, as far as being Italian, I am a little weird when it comes to pastas. I like simple, I don’t like spicy, and I especially dont like Italian sausage (my grandma is rolling in her grave right now). I love sharing recipes like this though, because it is a simple base for something you could make into your own and add or substitute whatever you like.

I will give you the recipe with exactly how I made it, and with what ingredients, but obviously you can alter it however you wish! I am so wild that for my baked ziti recipe, I used rigatoni noodles instead, because frankly I like a little “beefier (bigger)” noodle. I also used a little buffalo burger, but honestly it almost went unnoticed so it would be fine without meat. Or, if you like spicier (we all know I dont), it would be good with some diced peppers in the mix!

Simple Baked Ziti Rigatoni

Yield: 6 servings (or 4 large servings)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes


  • 2 cups (dry) wheat rigatoni
  • olive oil
  • 3/4 cup ground burger of choice (I used buffalo) *optional
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • ground black pepper
  • 1 jar of Nello’s red sauce
  • 1/2 cup low-fat ricotta
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Fill medium sized pot 2/3 full with water and bring to boil. Once boiling, add dry pasta and reduce heat to medium. Boil until noodles are almost al dente, you want to stop them while they are still somewhat firm. Strain and set aside.
  3. If you opted to use burger – In small saucepan, cook burger (season with a little black pepper). Once done, drain grease and set aside in small bowl.
  4.  In same (or another) pan over medium heat, saute minced garlic, onion, and mushrooms (I sautéed mine in a little white wine, of course). Once done (about 3-5 minutes, depending on preference), add to bowl with burger.
  5. Prep 9×9 square baking pan by spooning a thin layer of sauce over bottom and then adding a thin layer of mozzarella on top of that.
  6. Pour noodles, sauce (leave a few tablespoons of sauce to pour over top at end), the burger/mushrooms/onions mix, and ricotta into medium pot in which you boiled noodles (or another bowl to mix). Mix together well.
  7. Spoon half of mixture into baking dish. Cover with layer of mozzarella. Add remaining pasta mixture, the last bit of sauce, and another layer of mozzarella.
  8. Cover tightly with foil and bake for 35 minutes.



  • What is your favorite type of pasta dish (alfredo, spaghetti, tortellini, etc)?
  • Do you like Italian sausage?
7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Love this! I’m all about baked pasta dishes lately and this one I gotta try! 🙂

    My fav is pasta alla carbonara or my mom’s homemade meat sauce with spaghetti – it’s simple but so very delicious!

    November 1, 2011
  2. Brittany @ Itty Bits of Balance #

    Haha well tell your grandmother to roll over twice for me too because I am NOT a spicy Italian lover either. I like spicy Thai, spicy Japanese and spicy Mediterranean, but I like my Italian tomatoe-y (thats a word, right?) 😀

    November 1, 2011
  3. hahaha—frosty windshields, i feel ya girl. but now that we’ve had a snowstorm here in october..i find anything is possible. ugh!

    the pictures of your rigatoni warmed my heart maybe a little…pasta makes me so happy. i cant do alfredo, it gives me that…blegh feeling anytime i eat it. I dont like things that settle so heavy in my stomach (besides 10 pounds of wings, thats a different story) i really love penne ala vodka…but kevins mom makes her ridiculously amazing homemade sauce..which is a simple red sauce but its obviously meat flavored because she makes it with meatballs and sausage…not a huge fan of spicy red sauce either..i agree with britt up there that spicy is mostly good with thai and mediterranean 😉

    November 1, 2011
  4. Yum yum yum! I think hubby and I would both love this dish!! I don’t really like mushrooms, but he does, and I could pick them out of my portion! 😉

    I like pretty much all pastas. I really love pesto with my pasta. Yum!

    November 1, 2011
    • Oo give it a try! I bet he would like, my hubby approved which is sometimes amazing, haha. i cant believe he didnt notice I used whole wheat noodles, I think the only reason was because it was baked and they were super tender 🙂

      November 1, 2011
  5. Our weather has been crazy nice lately! As in, perfect! This has got to beat Alaska, right? 🙂

    November 2, 2011

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