- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/3 cup tomato paste
- 1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
- 1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
- 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
- 1 15-ounce container ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 1/4 Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
- 8 ounces mozzarella cheese, grated
- 12 ounces freshly cooked ziti or other tubular pasta
- Optional - 1 lb of Italian sausage casings removed & crumbled
Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium-low heat. If you're using the sausage, add it at this point and cook until done. Add onion, garlic and fennel seeds (omit the fennel if you've added sausage) and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Mix in tomato paste and cook 1 minute. Add tomato sauce, water, oregano and sage. Simmer until mixture thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Stir in 1/4 cup Romano. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Preheat oven to 450°F. Grease a 9x13-inch glass baking dish. In medium bowl combine ricotta cheese and egg. Reserve 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese for topping. Add remaining mozzarella to ricotta cheese mixture and blend. Season with salt and pepper.
Spread 1/4 of tomato sauce over bottom of prepared dish. Layer 1/3 of pasta over. Drop half of ricotta cheese mixture over by spoonfuls. Spread 1/4 of sauce over. Repeat layering with another 1/3 of pasta, remaining cheese mixture, 1/4 of sauce and remaining pasta. Spread remaining sauce over and sprinkle with reserved mozzarella and remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)
Cover casserole and bake until heated through, about 40 minutes.