Whip up my easy, crowd-pleasing baked ziti—it’s perfect for cozy weeknights yet special enough for company, and an absolute superstar at potlucks!


This baked ziti is a MAJOR crowd-pleaser. Whether I’m hosting a family gathering or cooking a meal for my 20-year-old son’s friends (I usually double the recipe in that case!), this dish always delivers. In fact, I love it so much that it’s featured proudly on the cover of my second cookbook! The secret to its uniqueness lies in using Italian sausage, which is a shortcut to incredible flavor, and skipping the ricotta cheese, which tends to have a grainy texture in traditional baked ziti. The recipe is doable on a weeknight yet special enough to serve to company, and it’s also a fantastic option for a make-ahead potluck dish. If you’re looking to save time, you can opt for pre-shredded mozzarella cheese from a bag; just make sure it’s the whole milk version (the low-fat version isn’t nearly as good). As the baked ziti works its magic in the oven, throw together a big Italian salad and warm some bread, and you’re ready to feast!

What You’ll Need to Make Baked Ziti

Ingredient in Baked Ziti

  • Ricotta cheese is a traditional addition to baked ziti, but I leave it out because it has a tendency to get dry and grainy when baked. I use heavy cream to add richness instead.
  • For the mozzarella cheese, I recommend using whole milk mozzarella; it melts beautifully. You can purchase a plastic-wrapped brick of mozzarella (pictured above and sold in the dairy case) and shred it yourself. (To make it easier to work with, pop it in the freezer for 15 to 20 minutes prior to shredding.) Or, to save time time, use pre-shredded mozzarella; just be sure it is made from whole milk. Avoid fresh buffalo mozzarella, which is best suited for salads.
  • Many grocers sell bulk Italian sausage (pictured above), which is simply ground sausage without the casings. If you can’t find it, you can ask your butcher to take the meat out of the casings or do it yourself.

Step-by-Step Instructions For Baked Ziti

Step 1: Boil the Noodles

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the 1 lb of ziti noodles according to the package instructions until a few minutes shy of al dente, about 7 minutes. (It will continue to cook in the oven, so you want to undercook it just a bit.) Drain and add the pasta back to the pot. Set aside.

Step 2: Make the Sauce

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, and crumble the 1½ lbs sausage into the pan.

Cook the sausage, breaking apart with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned and just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a plate.

Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and set over low heat (if you don’t have enough fat in the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil). Add the 4 cloves minced garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft but not browned, about 1 minute.

Stir in the 28-oz can crushed tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt, 1½ teaspoons sugar, and ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the 1 cup heavy cream, 1/3 cup of the pecorino Romano, and 1/3 cup basil to the pan.

Then stir in the cooked sausage.

Carefully pour the contents of the sauté pan into the large pot with the pasta and gently stir to combine.

Step 3: Assemble & Bake

Spoon half of the mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded mozzarella (1 cup) and half of the remaining pecorino Romano (1½ tablespoons).

Spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella (1 cup) and pecorino Romano (1½ tablespoons).

Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and browned, 15 to 20 minutes.

How To Make Baked Ziti Ahead

The dish can be assembled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days in advance, or frozen for up to 3 months. If frozen, defrost in the refrigerator overnight, and bake, covered tightly with aluminum foil, in a 425°F (220°C) oven for 25 minutes. Then uncover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is lightly browned and the pasta is hot throughout.


 

Baked Ziti Recipe

Whip up my easy, crowd-pleasing baked ziti—it’s perfect for cozy weeknights yet special enough for company, and an absolute superstar at potlucks!
Servings 8 Servings
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 50 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes

Ingredients
  

  • 455 g ziti noodles
  • 680 g ground spicy or sweet Italian sausage or removed from casings
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 795-g can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • teaspoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 240 ml heavy cream
  • 33 g plus 19 grams grated pecorino Romano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, divided
  • 15 g chopped fresh basil plus more for serving
  • 226 g whole milk mozzarella cheese shredded (about 2 cups)

Instructions
 

  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the 1 lb of ziti noodles and cook according to the package directions for very al dente, about 7 minutes. (It will continue to cook in the oven so you want to undercook it just a bit.) Drain and add the pasta back to the pot. Set aside.
  • Preheat the oven to 220°C and set the oven rack in the middle position.
  • Heat a large sauté pan (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat. Crumble the 1½ lbs of sausage into the pan and cook, breaking apart with a wooden spoon, until lightly browned and just cooked through, 5 to 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked sausage to a plate. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan and set over low heat (if you don't have enough fat in the pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil). Add the 4 cloves of minced garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft but not browned, about 1 minute. Add the 795-g can of crushed tomatoes, 1 teaspoon salt, 1½ teaspoons sugar and ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
  • Add the 1 cup cream, 33 g of the pecorino Romano, cooked sausage, and ⅓ cup basil to the pan; stir until evenly combined. Carefully pour the contents of the sauté pan into the large pot with the pasta and gently stir to combine. Spoon half of the mixture into a 23 x 33-cm baking dish. Sprinkle with half of the shredded mozzarella (113 g) and half the remaining pecorino Romano (1½ tablespoons). Spoon the remaining pasta mixture on top and sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella (113 g) and pecorino Romano (1½ tablespoons). Transfer to the oven and bake, uncovered, until the cheese has melted and browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle with more basil and serve.
  • Make-Ahead/Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The dish can be assembled, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days in advance, or frozen for up to 3 months. (If frozen, defrost in the refrigerator overnight.) Whether refrigerated or frozen and defrosted, bake, covered tightly with aluminum foil, in a 220°C oven for 25 minutes. Then uncover and bake for another 10 to 15 minutes, until the cheese is lightly browned and the pasta is hot throughout.
Author: Kit Food
Calories:
Course: Beef Recipes, Dinner Recipes
Cuisine: Italian

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