We all need a good baked ziti recipe, don’t we? Well here it is. I was looking for something like this to serve up for Episode #3 of The Clean Plate Club. Pasta being my favorite food, I wanted to serve pasta without having to be in the kitchen the whole time, boiling, straining, stirring, etc. Baked ziti is the perfect solution. You make your pasta earlier in the day, cook it al dente, toss it with a flavorful sauce (more on that in a sec) then layer it in a baking dish with lots and lots of cheese. Boom: you’re done. All you have to do is pop it in the oven.
I found this particular recipe on Food & Wine’s website. It’s a super smart recipe because it allows you to take shortcuts (gasp: jarred tomato sauce) but in a way that nobody will ever figure out. Let me walk you through it.
First, cook onions and garlic in olive oil.
Next: add ground beef and smoked paprika* and red chile flakes and cook until the beef starts to brown (it takes a little while). * The smoked paprika is an unusual ingredient, here, but it really livens up the dish. Almost makes it taste like chorizo, which–in my book–is a good thing.
Here comes the jar of tomato sauce (Rao’s is recommended and I really like it; I think Ina Garten uses it too, even though it’s blurred out on her show, I can tell).
Cook that all together and there’s your flavorful, dressed up sauce. See what we did there?
Now boil some ziti until it’s al dente (better to err on the side of undercooking than overcooking because it’ll cook more in the oven). Drain the pasta and then toss it with the sauce.
Even that would be a good dinner, but we’re not done. It’s cheese time. Slice up some fresh mozzarella (the recipe tells you to use grated mozzarella, but I like slicing the fresh stuff better).
(That’s ricotta on the right. There’s also Parmesan, not pictured. It was hiding.)
Stir the ricotta into the pasta and sauce, not breaking it up too much. You want big mounds of it here and there.
A layer of that in the pan.
Add Parmesan and mozzarella.
Finish up with the rest of the pasta, the rest of the Parmesan and the rest of the mozzarella.
That’s it. Cover with foil, pop into your fridge until it’s time for dinner. Then preheat the oven to 450, remove the foil and bake until the sauce is bubbling and the top is browned (you really want crusty corners here, you can hear Ganda raving about them in the podcast). Here you are.
Serve it up with a salad and a glass of red wine and what could be better? Nothing, I tell you, nothing. This is a baked ziti for the ages. You’re welcome.
Recipe: Baked Ziti
Summary: Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine.
- 1 pound ziti or penne
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 pound lean ground sirloin
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- One 24-ounce jar marinara sauce (3 cups) (Rao’s is nice)
- 1 1/2 cups fresh ricotta (about 12 ounces)
- 1 large round ball of fresh mozzarella, sliced thinly
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- If you’re making this ahead, don’t preheat your oven yet. If you’re making it all at once, preheat your oven to 450.
- In a large deep skillet, heat the olive oil on medium heat, add the onion and a pinch of salt and cook until the onion is softened but not brown. Add the garlic and cook another minute just until fragrant. Add the ground sirloin, crushed red pepper and paprika, seasoning with salt. Turn the heat up to high, break up the meat with a spoon and cook until the meat is brown (and no longer pink). Add the sauce, bring to a boil, lower to a simmer and cook–partially covered–for 5 minutes until the sauce tastes great. Set aside.
- Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water. Cook one or two minutes less than the package says; you want it al dente. Drain the pasta and then toss the pasta in the sauce (I found it easier to do this in the pasta pot rather than the sauce sauté pan, but it’s up to you.) Add the ricotta in large dollops and stir gently, leaving some clumps.
- Pour half the ziti into a 9X13-inch baking dish, top with half of the mozzarella and Parmesan. Repeat with the remaining ziti and cheeses. Here’s where you can cover with foil and refrigerate until you’re ready to bake.
- When you’re ready, get the oven to 450 degrees and bake the ziti–uncovered–for 15 minutes, until bubbling and browned. Let the ziti rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Preparation time: 45 minute(s)
Cooking time: 15 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 6