Sooo I hate to toot my own horn, but tonight’s baked ziti may be one of the scrummiest things I’ve ever made. Beep beep, y’all.
It’s rare for me to make a baked pasta, we generally eat a little lighter fare. But every now and then we’re in the mood for something savory. Usually I would follow the Pioneer Woman’s recipe for this Italian indulgence https://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/baked-ziti/ , but I knew I could make a version of my own and I’m so tickled I gave it a whirl.
I wanted to kick the cheese up a notch (or ten) and omg it paid off. Three cheeses and heavy cream blended together in ooey gooey perfection is just what a weekend needs. Plus I had a little extra time on my hands today so I decided to make a more proper sauce as the base rather than using a jarred sauce. Disclaimer: I am NOT Italian. My ‘proper’ might not be sanctioned as Italian-proper. I was not taught the art of sauces by generations of Italiano cooks. I know there’s probably some cute little nonna rolling her eyes at me somewhere over my sauce prep. But let me tell you nonna, it came out delish.
Further disclaimer; I guess I basically made lasagna but with ziti. #sorrynotsorry Layering with noodles, sauce, cheese, noodles, sauce, cheese. It works. Oh yum does it work. Grab a glass of vino, let’s get cozy in the kitchen.
Alteration Option: I added a pound of meat to my sauce which was moderately meaty to me. You could go a little heavier or lighter on the meat depending on your preferences. I also did half and half ground pork and half ground beef, but of course you could use whatever mix you want.
- ¼ cup good olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- Salt and ground pepper to taste
- 1 lb ground meat, beef and pork
- 1 small can tomato paste
- 1 28oz can whole peeled tomatoes in juice (you’re going to crush them with the flat of your knife & add tomatoes and juice to your sauce)
- 2-3 dashes of red pepper flakes
- 15oz tub of good ricotta
- ½ cup heavy cream
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- 1 pound bag of dry ziti pasta
- 1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into pieces
- Parsley and grated Parmesan to garnish if chosen
- Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Good olive oil really makes a difference. Yum.
- Add the finely chopped yellow onion and pressed/minced garlic. Top with a couple cranks of freshly cracked salt and pepper.
- Add the meat (or don’t, it’s yummy with or without)
- Cook until the onion is completely translucent and the meat is cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and mix completely. Cook another two minutes.
- Hopefully you’ve already crushed your tomatoes with the flat of your knife. Add your crushed tomatoes and all of their sauce/juice and stir completely, making sure to scrape the sides and bottom of your pot.
- Season again with salt and pepper and add the red pepper flakes.
- Bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes stirring occasionally.
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees as the sauce cooks.
- In a medium bowl, combine the 15oz ricotta, 1/2 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
Bring it All Together:
- It’s perfection if you cook the pasta just south of al dente. We want it undercooked slightly since it’s going to bake in the oven more.
- Ladle out 1 cup of the pasta water into a measuring cup, then strain the ziti and rinse with cool water. Set aside until the sauce is ready.
- Once your base sauce is done, stir in the 1 cup of pasta water you just reserved.
- Place those yummy noodles in a large bowl and add two cups of the sauce. Stir it up to coat the pasta evenly.
- Now let’s prep the baking dish! I really need cuter bakeware. Using a glass brownie dish over here. But boring dish aside, spoon a lil sauce on the bottom of a 3 quart baking dish. The you will layer ziti, sauce and mozzarella in thirds. With two layers of ricotta magic. Like so:
- Layer in 1/3 of the pasta.
- Spread 1/2 of the ricotta/cream/parm mixture on top of the noodles.
- Scatter 1/3 of the mozarella pieces. Eat one or two.
- Layer 1/3 of the pasta.
- Dollop the other half of the ricotta mixture.
- Scatter 1/3 of the mozzarella
- Add the remaining 1/3 of noodles.
- Spread the last third of the sauce.
- Artfully scatter the remaining 1/3 of mozzarella. Sprinkle on some parm, why not. This is going to be good.
- I placed my dish on top of a sheet pan in case it dripped. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes-ish until the edges are golden and bubbling.
PS: I have a perfect bubbling mozzarella temp that is my golden standard for all things pasta and pizza. I missed my window while I prepped meatballs, but the good news is that it’s yummy even if it’s slightly less bubbled and obviously it was delish as a slightly crispier than ideal mozz too. I also cooked today’s dinner at 425 resulting in my crispy cheese, but have altered the recipe to 400. You got this.