Eat | Baked Ziti

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.

Ingredients

  • 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
It’s Italian night!
Notes: I thought I was going to add the purée to my sauce but ended up not feeling like it needed it. The jar sauces are for the meatballs.

Prep

Base Sauce:

  1. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Good olive oil really makes a difference. Yum.
  2. Add the finely chopped yellow onion and pressed/minced garlic. Top with a couple cranks of freshly cracked salt and pepper.
  3. Add the meat (or don’t, it’s yummy with or without)
  4. Cook until the onion is completely translucent and the meat is cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.
  5. Add the tomato paste and mix completely. Cook another two minutes.
  6. 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.
  7. Season again with salt and pepper and add the red pepper flakes.
  8. Bring to a simmer. Cook for 20 minutes stirring occasionally.
  9. Heat the oven to 400 degrees as the sauce cooks.

Filling:

  1. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Once your base sauce is done, stir in the 1 cup of pasta water you just reserved.
  4. Place those yummy noodles in a large bowl and add two cups of the sauce. Stir it up to coat the pasta evenly.
  5. 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:
  6. Layer in 1/3 of the pasta.
  7. Spread 1/2 of the ricotta/cream/parm mixture on top of the noodles.
  8. Scatter 1/3 of the mozarella pieces. Eat one or two.
  9. Layer 1/3 of the pasta.
  10. Dollop the other half of the ricotta mixture.
  11. Scatter 1/3 of the mozzarella
  12. Add the remaining 1/3 of noodles.
  13. Spread the last third of the sauce.
  14. Artfully scatter the remaining 1/3 of mozzarella. Sprinkle on some parm, why not. This is going to be good.
  15. 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.

Oops – I blame the fast cooking oven!

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