This easy, from-scratch spin on Baked Ziti is comforting, filling, and just oozing with cheesy goodness!
If you ever have a baby and I offer to bring you dinner, odds are that I'll be delivering a pan full of this hearty, cheesy Baked Ziti (along with this as a side dish and this for dessert). Why, you might ask? Well, the reasons are a-plenty, but I'll give you five:
1. This Baked Ziti is universally enjoyed by young and old. Whether it is to be inhaled solely by adults or there's a picky toddler in the mix, there aren't many people who can resist a flavorful, saucy, meaty medley of pasta and cheese.
2. This recipe can be made completely from scratch of you can take a few shortcuts. Either way, it's pretty quick to throw together. It basically involves the same initial steps as making spaghetti but it turns out so much more special! Brown your beef, mix in tomato sauce, herbs, and plenty of cheese (ricotta and mozzarella), toss with pasta, and scoop into a baking dish. Top with more mozz, bake until brown and bubbly, and serve to oohs and aahs!
3. You can put together this dish up to the final step of baking, cover and deliver it (unbaked) to its lucky recipients, and then it can hang out in the fridge until it's time to pop it in the oven for dinner.
4. This recipe makes a ton. So much so that it's easy to split a batch between two (small-ish) families. Or half can be eaten now and the other half can be frozen for later!
5. Did I mention how cozy and filling this meal is? Baked Ziti is comfort food at its finest, which is ideal when you're feeding new, sleep-deprived parents, who are probably too busy and concerned with their recent arrival to worry about proper nourishment for themselves. Not to mention that Mama is most likely starving...
But don't think for a second that delivering a dinner to new parents (or anyone else who could use the blessing of a meal) is the only reason to make this recipe! Baked Ziti is a family favorite at our house any night of the week, yet it's also impressive enough to serve to company.
It's easy to fancy up this dish with Italian sausage, fresh mozzarella, a quick and simple from-scratch sauce, and fresh herbs, or you can keep it basic (but still delicious!) using ground beef, jarred marinara (homemade or store-bought), and grated mozzarella. Either way, it's a meal worthy of sharing with friends...and it goes without saying that it deserves a spot on your regular dinner rotation!
So put this Baked Ziti on your menu and let me know what you think! And if you're having a baby anytime soon, feel free to share that as well so I can send some right over... 😉
More Italian Favorites
- One-Pot Spaghetti
- 30-Minute Skillet Lasagna
- Easy Italian Baked Chicken
- 20-Minute Lasagna Tortellini Soup
- 1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed (OR ground beef)
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes in puree
- 1 (16-ounce) can tomato sauce
- ¾ teaspoon dried basil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar
- Salt & freshly ground black pepper
- Crushed red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)
- 1 pound ziti pasta, or penne
- 8 ounces ricotta cheese
- 8 ounces grated regular mozzarella
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan
- Crumble the Italian sausage (or ground beef) into a large pot set over medium-high heat. Cook, drain, and push meat to the edges of the pot. Drizzle the oil in the center of the pot and add the garlic, stirring and cooking for about a minute or until fragrant and beginning to turn light golden brown. Stir int the tomatoes with juices, tomato sauce, herbs, and garlic powder. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes.
- While sauce is cooking, preheat oven to 400°F. Simultaneously, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on the stove over high heat. Cook the ziti until just al dente (do not overcook). Drain and set aside.
- After sauce has simmered for 10 minutes, taste and stir in enough sugar to counter the acidity of the tomatoes. Season sauce to taste with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes (if using). If desired, add more herbs (particularly if using fresh herbs).
- Stir the cooked ziti into the marinara sauce. Mix in ricotta cheese and grated mozzarella. Pour pasta into a 4 ½ to 5-quart baking dish (I use a large rectangular baking dish that's slightly larger than a 9x13). Top with sliced fresh mozzarella and sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 20 to 30 minutes.
- If using Italian sausage, you may use sweet, spicy, or a half pound of each.
- If available, you may substitute 3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian herbs (such as a combo of basil, oregano, thyme, and/or parsley) for the dried herbs.
- If you wish, you may use all fresh mozzarella or all regular mozzarella in this recipe. Fresh mozzarella is more expensive, so I typically use regular mozzarella for grating and stirring into the pasta. Then I top the dish with sliced fresh mozzarella to make the flavor and presentation more special. If you wish to use fresh mozzarella mixed into the pasta, just cut it into small cubes (since it's too soft to be grated).
- You can probably squeeze the pasta mixture into a regular 9- by 13-inch baking dish, but the fit may be snug. I prefer using a DEEP baking dish just to be safe, or I divide the pasta between two 8- by 8-inch baking dishes, cooking one now and freezing one for later.
- Two (24-ounce) jars of store-bought marinara may be substituted for the homemade sauce.
Adapted from Food Network