Homey, cheesy, hearty, comforting – family food at its finest
Baked Ziti (aka baked pasta or pasta al forno) can be made with any tubular pasta. No matter what shape we use, though, we always call it baked ziti. Because that’s the name we’ve always known it by.
This dish is easy to put together. Its flavor and character resemble lasagna, but it’s a much simpler dish to assemble. Kind of a poor man’s lasagna, we suppose.
But the flavor couldn’t be richer.
This is a baked casserole dish that uses cooked pasta, Italian-style meat or tomato sauce, and three different kinds of cheese. You can use whatever pasta shape you prefer, though we recommend a rugged tubular shape like ziti, rigatoni, penne, or mostaccioli.
We usually make this dish with our Italian Meat Sauce. Another good choice would be our Italian Sausage and Tomato Sauce. Or our Italian Pork Ragu for Pasta or Polenta.
If you want a lighter dish, try our Basic Italian Tomato Sauce (Marinara). You could even substitute commercial jarred sauce. Whatever you use, you’ll want 2 to 3 cups of sauce for 8 ounces of dried pasta.
Assuming you have tomato sauce on hand (we always make big batches and freeze it just for dishes like this), prep time for this dish is about 15 minutes (that includes cooking the pasta). Baking time adds 20 to 30 minutes.
This recipe yields 4 hearty servings. Leftovers keep for a day or two if refrigerated in an airtight container.
- 2 to 3 cups Italian meat or tomato sauce (see headnote)
- 8 ounces tubular pasta of choice (we vote for ziti or mostaccioli)
- salt to season the pasta cooking water (~1 tablespoon kosher salt; see Notes)
- 1 to 1½ ounces shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano cheese (to taste)
- ~¾ cup ricotta cheese (or more to taste; we often use about a cup)
- ~5 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese (see Notes)
- parsley for garnish (very optional)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Add the meat or tomato sauce to a medium-sized cooking pot and bring it to a simmer on the stovetop. Let it simmer while you’re cooking the pasta.
- Add water (about 2 quarts) to a large cooking pot and bring it to a boil on the stovetop. Add salt to taste, then add the pasta. Simmer until the pasta is done (see package directions, but this will take about 7 minutes or so). It’s OK if the pasta is still a bit firmer than you like – it’ll cook more in the oven. When the pasta is done, drain it and return the pasta to the cooking pot.
- Meanwhile, shred the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Mix about half of it into the ricotta and set aside. Shred the mozzarella and set aside.
- When the sauce is hot and the pasta is cooked, assemble the dish: First, add about half the sauce to the pot containing the cooked pasta and mix it all together. Then add the ricotta mixture and stir it in (no need to be overly thorough about this step).
- Next, spread a very thin layer of the remaining sauce on the bottom of a 2-quart baking or casserole dish (we sometimes skip this step). Add about half the pasta/cheese mixture and spread it out in a layer. Sprinkle half the shredded mozzarella over it. Then add the remaining pasta/cheese mixture and spread it out in the dish.
- Layer on the rest of the sauce to cover the pasta. Then sprinkle on the rest of the mozzarella and the rest of the Parmigiano-Reggiano.
- Bake the pasta for 20 to 30 minutes, or until it’s hot and bubbly and the cheese on top is nicely browned (start testing after 20 minutes). Let the dish sit for about 10 minutes before serving.
- Add a sprinkling of chopped parsley for garnish if you wish, then serve and enjoy.
- Quantities are somewhat flexible for this dish. In particular, you might want to add more or less cheese than we specify – depending on how rich you want the dish to be.
- We like to use more rather than less sauce in this dish, but adjust to your own preference.
- This dish is better if you make your own sauce (no surprise). If you use a commercial sauce, we recommend increasing the amount of cheese to give the dish more depth of flavor. Because many commercial sauces are a bit one dimensional.
- If using very fresh mozzarella, it's sometimes easier to cut it into thin slices rather than trying to shred it.
- This dish is easy to double if you’re serving a crowd. Baking time might be a touch longer if you’re baking a larger quantity. And of course you’ll want to use a larger casserole dish.
- We find that a serving of this dish is plenty for dinner. But you can also add a salad and maybe some garlic bread if you want more.
- Oh, and don’t forget a glass of wine!
- You can assemble this dish an hour or two ahead of time, if you wish, then refrigerate it and bake shortly before serving. If you bake the dish right after you pull it out of the refrigerator, you’ll need to increase the baking time by about 10 to 15 minutes (but start testing after about 25 minutes).
- We use kosher salt for cooking. It’s less salty by volume than regular table salt (the crystals are larger and more irregular, so they pack a measure less tightly). If you’re using table salt, start with about half the amount we suggest. But always season to your taste, not ours.
“Squisito!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Love all the cheese in this dish.”
“Yup, this is so good it’s pre-pasta-rous,” I said.
“Well, that pun was tortellini uncalled for,” said Mrs K R.
“Hey, that’s life in the big ziti,” I said.
“I’ve got enough cheese on my plate already,” said Mrs K R. “You don’t need to add more.”
This too shall pasta.
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