For an inspired baked ziti, we focused on perfecting every element of this family favorite. Sautéed garlic and red pepper flakes provided a savory foundation to our easy sauce, and two big cans of crushed
tomatoes added rich, long-simmered flavor in short order. Stirring some of the pasta cooking water into the briefly simmered sauce provided further insurance against dryness. A middle layer of ricotta promised creamy pockets of cheese, while a topping of shredded mozzarella and grated Parmesan gave the ziti a
nicely browned crust. Finishing with chopped basil kept our perfect baked ziti fresh-looking and bright-tasting.
- Yield: 8 Servings
- Total Time: 1 Hour 45 Minutes
- 12 ounces (1½ cups) whole-milk or part-skim ricotta cheese
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 12 ounces whole-milk mozzarella cheese, shredded (3 cups)
- 3 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1½ cups)
- 1½ pounds ziti
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Mix ricotta, 2 tablespoons oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper together in bowl. In separate bowl, combine mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Bring 6 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add pasta and 1½ tablespoons salt and cook, stirring often, until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Reserve 1½ cups cooking water, then drain pasta and set aside.
- Dry now-empty pot, add remaining 2 tablespoons oil, garlic, and pepper flakes and cook over medium heat until fragrant but not brown, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, bring to simmer, and cook until thickened slightly, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Stir pasta and reserved cooking water into sauce. Transfer half of pasta mixture to 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Dollop large spoonfuls of ricotta mixture evenly over pasta, then spread remaining pasta mixture evenly over ricotta. Sprinkle with mozzarella mixture.
- Place baking dish on aluminum foil–lined rimmed baking sheet and bake until spotty brown and bubbling around edges, 25 to 35 minutes. Let casserole cool for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and serve.