Baked ziti has always been on my list of last-minute, always satisfying dinners for when I need a little comfort food but don't have too many ingredients on hand. This recipe takes care of all of those things. The ingredients are mostly pantry staples, it's super simple, and it includes a quick homemade sauce which keeps it light (that is, light in the baked-ziti-world).
You'll start by making the most delicious sauce. This red sauce is SO simple, and totally worth it. It gives the baked ziti such a fresh taste, and saves a bit of money, as jarred marinara sauce can be pricey from the grocery store. In the winter months with not a worthy fresh tomato in sight, this recipe uses canned tomato sauce which is quickly doctored up with a few essentials, leaving you with a bright and healthy red sauce.
With these ingredients, you'll have the easiest homemade sauce in minutes-
Making the sauce is as easy as sautéing the garlic and crushed red pepper in the olive oil until fragrant, adding in the rest of the ingredients, and simmering while you make the pasta! This sauce smells heavenly, and will ensure your baked ziti isn't the least bit dry.
From there on out the rest just gets even simpler. You'll cook your favorite pasta shape (while this is a baked ziti, I love rigatoni as it's great at capturing all the sauce and cheese), then grab all the cheeses in sight! You'll want to start with some shredded fontina and grated parm, which actually get added into the simmering sauce! So you might be wondering why bother adding them into the sauce, and I can assure you, it's to help ensure that the essential cheesiness is in every nook and cranny of this baked ziti, which is of course, super important!
You'll next combine the completed sauce with the drained pasta. To combine the pasta and sauce, I recommend pouring whichever is in the smaller pot into the larger pot. If you cooked your sauce in a medium skillet, I'd probably recommend pouring that into the large pot you cooked the pasta in. If you went for a big dutch oven or large skillet to simmer the sauce in, go ahead and add in that cooked pasta! Either way, make sure you stir it up real good, evenly distributing the sauce throughout each piece of pasta.
In a baked ziti, there's truly 2 stars, the sauce and the cheeses. In my opinion, the flavor of the sauce and the combination of cheeses are how to get the absolute best baked ziti out there. Since the delicious and simple sauce is all set (complete with 2 cheeses already!) it's time to grab the other key components-
Now the key here is the combination of the cubed and shredded mozzarella. The cubed here is key, because I think we can all agree, there's nothing better than when you bite into something like a baked ziti and hit the best perfectly cheesy spot. The cubed mozzarella is also guaranteed to stay perfectly cheesy while baking. On the other hand, the shredded mozzarella is also essential for getting in all the crevices of this layered pasta dish, and for creating the perfectly golden cheese on the top, which we also all know and love. The perfect duo! And the parm? Well, you just can't make a cheesy pasta dish without it.
A key to this recipe is layering half of the pasta, followed by half the cheese, and repeating this. Baked pasta dishes can be so fun until you are finished with the top layer and realize the rest is *dare I say* plain pasta. This recipe won't leave you hanging, and each bite is sure to be both perfectly saucy and cheesy. To put this all together-
Then it's time to bake! This baked ziti is baked for roughly 30 minutes, uncovered. Once it's almost done, you should be able to see the sauce bubbling up along the edges, and the cheese should be perfectly golden. Because it's baked uncovered, be sure to keep a close eye towards the end and rotate the dish if certain areas seem to be browning more quickly than others. One of my favorite tips is to throw a small piece of aluminum foil over any area of cheese which is getting a tad too golden!
And voila! Crispy and golden on top, with the cheesiest interior, everything a perfect baked ziti should be. Easy, cheesy, very simple and full of fresh ingredients. Top with fresh basil, and enjoy this warm winter dish with a nice glass of red and of course, extra parmesan.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
A quick, warm, baked ziti dinner with a simple sauce and no shortage of cheese.
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper, stirring until garlic is fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
3. Add sauce, kosher salt, black pepper, and dried basil. Stir to combine and simmer over low-medium heat while you make the pasta.
4. Cook pasta until slightly shy of al dente (as it will continue to cook in the oven). Drain pasta and return to pot.
5. Add fontina and grated parmesan to sauce, stirring to combine. Add pasta and stir liberally to ensure sauce is evenly distributed.
6. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish. Pour half of pasta into dish, then add half of cubed mozzarella, spreading evenly over pasta. Repeat with other half of pasta and mozzarella.
7. Top with shredded mozzarella and parmesan, and sprinkle with additional salt and pepper.
8. Bake for 30 minutes uncovered or until cheese is golden and sauce is bubbling. Serve immediately, topped with fresh basil.
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