Homemade baked ziti can turn out dry if you don’t follow some key steps. It is a hearty, delicious and inexpensive dish, so shouldn’t it be amazing? Find out how to make a baked ziti that people will remember you for!
Do you love the taste of perfectly cooked pasta, marinara sauce and the ooey cheesy comfort of lasagna but not all the work? Then baked ziti is your answer!
It is possible to get this classic comfort food out of the oven and onto your plate in under 1 hour, but more importantly, I am going to also share with you how I keep my ziti moist and from drying out in the meantime.
But first let’s talk cheese ….
WHAT CHEESE SHOULD I USE IN MY BAKED ZITI?
Ah….. the ever popular question … what kind of cheese(s) should you use in your ziti? I have made ziti more times that I can count, with probably every combination of cheeses out there.
While most ziti’s can be made using just one type of cheese, usually mozzarella, it lacks any depth or imagination. I have landed on the following cheese ratio and the more I make it, the better it seems to get.
This ziti uses FOUR cheeses:
- Mozzarella – 8 oz.
- Parmesan – 1 cup
- Ricotta – 1 cup
- Provolone – 8-12 slices from the deli
Yes friends, the secret cheese is …. provolone! However, each cheese is just as important as the next.
- Mozzarella – obviously for its meltability.
- Parmesan – for it’s saltiness.
- Ricotta – go out of your way to find an Italian ricotta cheese. It has a sweeter flavor where the American version tends to be saltier and moister.
- The Provolone cheese, however, is the unexpected surprise in this dish. Provolone has a mild and creamy texture. Purchase it in SLICES as pictured below.
HOW TO KEEP BAKED ZITI FROM DRYING OUT
Four key culprits to a dried out ziti are:
- there is not enough sauce,
- the noodles aren’t cooked until JUST AL DENTE and overcook while baking,
- the noodles aren’t thoroughly and evenly coated with sauce, or
- the edges of the noodles are exposed and subject to drying out.
When I say the pasta should be cooked until al dente what I mean by that is the pasta should be cooked for about 6 minutes. The pasta has gotten softER, but it still has a bite.
If the pasta is cooked fully it can easily overcook while baking becoming mushy. If it is UNDERCOOKED, it will continue to cook while baking, soaking up the sauce, resulting in a dried out ziti.
Cook the pasta in salted water over a SLOW BOIL. Violently boiling pasta noodles will break them down. A lot of bubbles on top of the water doesn’t allow for proper ventilation of the steam underneath, which results in a frothy foam on top.
HOW TO LAYER BAKED ZITI
Next up, is what I call the layering effect.
Stir half the noodles with of the sauce in the baking dish until the sauce completely coats the noodles.
- Add a few dollops of ricotta cheese on top,
- Next, add the slices of provolone cheese and top with the mozzarella.
- Repeat this one more time, beginning with the sauce and layering with the cheeses.
- Cover the pasta in sauce, ensuring the ends are not poking out and they are completely covered.
- Top the ziti off with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and bake it UNCOVERED at 375° for 30 minutes or until the cheese is melty and gooey.
Since the penne noodles were already par boiled, the actual cooking time is mainly spent melting the cheeses. This should only take about 30 minutes, if the oven is adequately pre heated.
The ziti can also be popped under the broiler to get that bubbly browned cheese on top, if desired.
Can I freeze this? Yes. Bake the ziti and allow it to cool on the counter until it reaches between close to 70°F (no longer than 2 hours). NEVER place a hot item in the fridge to cool ‘quickly’. Once the ziti is cool, cover with foil and freeze.
How do I reheat frozen ziti? If time permits, take the ziti out of the freezer 24 hours before cooking. This should allow enough time for it to thaw. Then cook as usual. This CAN be cooked frozen also. Simply place aluminum foil over the ziti and bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until a knife inserted comes out hot and the cheese is completely melted.
Should I cover ziti as it’s cooking? That depends. To prevent the pasta from “steaming” and to allow the top to brown it should be baked uncovered. As long as ALL the noodles are thoroughly covered in sauce there shouldn’t be a problem with the ziti drying out. However, if you want to cover it go ahead. Spray some foil with a little cooking spray to keep the cheese from sticking and cover it only ½ the cooking time, removing the foil the last part of baking.
Can I use a different noodle? If you don’t have ziti noodles, you can replace it with penne noodles. They are thinner and longer but will still capture the sauce inside.Print
If you follow our steps, you will have a perfectly cooked baked ziti. The noodles will not be over or undercooked, dried out or lack flavor. This will be the only baked ziti recipe you make again!
FOR THE SAUCE:
- 2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Organic Onion, finely chopped (½ cup)
- 3 Cloves Organic Garlic, finely chopped
- 5 Cups Marinara Sauce (about 46 ounces)
- 1–2 teaspoons Sea Salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 Pound Dried Ziti( or penne pasta)
- 1 Cup Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese
- 1 Organic Egg
- ½ Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
- 8 oz Freshly Grated Whole Milk Organic Mozzarella Cheese
- 8–12 slices Provolone cheese from the deli counter
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- In a large skillet over medium high heat, add 2 Tablespoons of oil and sauté the onion 1-2 minutes until soft. Add the garlic and season with salt and pepper, cook another minute.
- Add the marinara sauce and heat until hot.
- Meanwhile add the pasta to rapidly simmering, NOT BOILING, water and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 6 minutes or until al dente with a little bite left in it.
- As the pasta is cooking, in a small bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, egg, parmesan cheese and a sprinkle of sugar if desired.
- Pour a Tablespoon or 2 of olive oil in the bottom of a 9×13 pan and coat.
- Drain the pasta and pour in HALF the pasta and add HALF the sauce. Stir to combine.
- Put dollops of ricotta cheese on top of the pasta. Top it with 4-6 slices of Provolone cheese, then HALF the mozzarella cheese.
- Repeat with the remaining pasta, sauce, ricotta cheese and cheeses ensuring all the pasta is thoroughly covered in sauce.
- Top with fresh Parmesan cheese and bake UNCOVERED at 375 for 30 minutes. Pop the ziti under the broiler for a few minutes at the end to get a nice brown bubbly cheese.