Baked ziti should be an easy dish to make but often times gets dried out … let us show you how to make the best, moistest baked ziti that is a foolproof winner every time!
If 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!
I will show you how to get this classic comfort food out of the oven and onto your plate in under 1 hour, bur 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 ….
THE SECRET CHEESE
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.
I have landed on the following cheese ratio and the more I make it, the better it seems to get. Baked ziti requires 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 and 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. And finally the Provolone gets layered in between in SLICES for its mild and creamy texture.
HOW TO KEEP THE ZITI FROM DRYING OUT
The culprits to a dried out ziti are:
- you don’t have enough sauce,
- the noodles aren’t cooked until JUST AL DENTE and continue to cook while baking,
- the noodles aren’t thoroughly and evenly coated with sauce, or
- they are exposed as they go into the oven.
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, it’s gotten softER, but still has a bite. If the pasta is cooked fully it can become mushy and Overcooked while baking. If it is UNDERCOOKED, it continue to cook soaking up the sauce, resulting in a drier finished product.
It should also be cooked in SALTED water (you can add oil too) in a VERY SLOW BOIL. Having the stove on high and violently boiling your noodles will not result in an evenly cooked, plump pasta. Once the water boils, add the pasta and let it simmer quickly.
And just as a side note, potatoes should be cooked this way as well.
HOW TO LAYER
Next up, is what I call the layering effect. Take half the noodles and stir them with half the sauce in the baking dish until that sauce is all up in there, inside and out.
Put a few dollops of ricotta cheese on top, add slices of provolone and top with the mozzarella.
Do it again, starting with the sauce and layering with the cheeses.
Make sure all the noodles are covered in sauce and are not poking out.
Top it off with some freshly grated parmesan cheese and bake it UNCOVERED at 375 for 30 minutes or until the cheese is melty and gooey.
Once the cheese is completely melted and the ziti is heated through, pop it under the broiler for a few minutes to get it browned and you will have one awesome baked ziti dinner.
All the flavor, tastes, and comfort of lasagna with half the work
FOR THE SAUCE:
- 2 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Organic Onion, finely chopped (1/2 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
- 1/2 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 degrees.
- In a large skillet over medium high heat, add 2 Tablespoons of oil and saute 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.