This baked ziti is one of several meals that I served during our vacation.  It seemed like an obvious choice for feeding a crowd, as I have yet to meet anyone who would turn down a delicious hearty meal of cheesy baked pasta, salad, and bread.  This is the second time I have made this recipe, but I am sure I will be making it frequently in the future as well.  It is most definitely a crowd pleaser, and great for entertaining – once it is in the oven you can focus on other things in the kitchen, or even better, your guests!  My only alteration to the original recipe was to add some turkey Italian sausage and some onion.  I’m sure it would be great without the sausage as well, but I think it adds a lot of flavor, not to mention makes the dish even more filling and therefore able to feed more people.

If you are looking for some easy meals to serve to a crowd, here are the things I cooked for dinner during our vacation:
Shrimp scampi with salad and garlic bread (for the non-seafood eaters, the sauce minus the shrimp still makes a delicious light topping for pasta)
Grilled chicken fajitas with chips and salsa (normally I would make my favorite salsa, but in the spirit of vacation and relaxing, I used store-bought)
Chicken gyros with Greek salad (though all the meals were a hit, this was definitely the favorite – and for good reason!)
Baked ziti with Caesar salad and garlic bread 
Steamed shrimp (I made this for only Ben and I, because though it is very easy, it is not the most economical for a group of 10)

Baked Ziti
1 lb. whole milk or 1% cottage cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3 oz. grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 1/2 cups), divided
Table salt
1 lb. ziti
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
20 oz. turkey Italian sausage
1/2 cup yellow onion, finely chopped
5 medium cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1 (28 oz.) can tomato sauce
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves, divided
1 tsp. sugar
Ground black pepper
3/4 tsp. cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream (or whole milk)
8 oz. low-moisture mozzarella, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350° F.  Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan together in a medium bowl; set aside.  Bring a large pot of water to boil.  Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and the pasta; cook until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through, 5-7 minutes.  Drain the pasta and leave in colander.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Crumble in the turkey sausage and cook until nearly browned.  Add in the onion and garlic and continue to cook until the onion is softened and the sausage is completely browned.  Stir in the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and oregano; simmer until thickened, about 10 minutes.  Off the heat, stir in 1/2 cup basil and the sugar, and season with salt and pepper.  

In a small bowl stir together the cornstarch and heavy cream.  Transfer the mixture to the now-empty stockpot over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, 3-4 minutes.  Remove the pot from the heat and add the cottage cheese mixture, 1 1/2 cups of the tomato sauce and 3/4 cup mozzarella.  Stir to combine.  Add the pasta and toss to coat thoroughly with the sauce.

Transfer the pasta to a 9×13″ baking dish and spread the remaining tomato sauce evenly over the top.  Sprinkle the remaining mozzarella and Parmesan over the top.  Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil from the pan and continue to cook until the cheese is bubbling and beginning to brown, about 30 minutes longer.  Cool for 20 minutes.  Sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons basil and serve. 

Source: adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, March & April 2009