Irregular ongoing activity in cortical networks is often modeled as arising from recurrent connectivity. Yet it remains unclear to what extent its presence corrupts sensory signal transmission and network computational capabilities. In a recurrent cortical-like network, we have determined the activity patterns that are better transmitted and self-sustained by the network. We show that reproducible spiking and subthreshold dynamics can be triggered if the statistics of the imposed external drive are consistent with patterns previously seen in the ongoing activity. A subset of neurons in the network, constrained to replay temporal pattern segments extracted from the recorded ongoing activity of the same network, reliably drives the remaining, free-running neurons to call the rest of the pattern. Comparison with surrogate Poisson patterns indicates that the efficiency of the recall and completion process depends on the similarity between the statistical properties of the input with previous ongoing activity The reliability of evoked dynamics in recurrent networks is thus dependent on the stimulus used, and we propose that the similarity between spontaneous and evoked activity in sensory cortical areas could be a signature of efficient transmission and propagation across cortical networks.