How to Make Baked Ziti

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Start to Finish: 60 minutes Servings: 4 to 6 Difficulty Level: Beginner

Baked ziti requires only a handful of ingredients and little hands-on prep. This dish, adapted from a recipe from Lidia Bastianich, has the warm heartiness of a grandmother's home cooking. It's perfectly tasty as is, but making a simple garlic Parmesan sauce to go on top gives your dinner even more flavor and creamy texture.

Baked ziti leftovers freeze well.
(Sasa Komlen/iStock/Getty Images)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 8 ounces ziti
  • 3 cups marinara sauce
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 12 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 6 basil leaves

Optional

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • Black pepper

Bring a large pot of water, about 2 quarts, to a boil. Season the water with the salt.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and stir it. Dry ziti typically cooks in 10 to 12 minutes; follow your package's instructions. The pasta should be al dente -- cooked through but with a slight bite. Drain the cooked pasta.

Combine 2 1/2 cups of the sauce and all of the ricotta in a large bowl. Add the pasta and use a wooden spoon to gently stir everything together until the pasta is thoroughly coated.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Pour half of the tomato, ricotta and pasta mixture into an 8-inch-by 8-inch or 9-inch-by 9-inch baking dish. Spread it out into an even layer. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella over the pasta.

Pour in the rest of the pasta and use the wooden spoon to arrange it in an even layer. Drizzle the reserved 1/2 cup of sauce over the casserole and finish with the remaining mozzarella.

Bake the ziti for 25 to 30 minutes. It's done when the cheese is bubbling and golden brown.

Let the ziti cool for five minutes as you wash and chop the basil leaves. Scoop individual servings into bowls and sprinkle them with the basil. Eat ziti hot. Refrigerate leftovers for up to four days.

If you want to top your ziti with this simple cream sauce, adapted from Daniel Gritzer on Serious Eats,, start it just before taking the casserole out of the oven.

Pour the cream into a small saucepan and set it over medium-low heat. Mince the garlic cloves and add them to the cream. Let the mixture simmer (do not boil) for about 10 minutes, stirring it often. Sprinkle in the Parmesan cheese and stir it into the cream until it melts. Add a pinch of black pepper.

Spoon the sauce over a bowl of ziti.

You can make adjustments to any element of a baked ziti to create a slightly different dish.

  • Use rigatoni pasta, which is similar to ziti but has ridges.
  • Opt for spicy arrabbiata sauce, vodka sauce or your favorite meat sauce instead of traditional marinara.
  • Substitute provolone or gouda cheese for half of the mozzarella. Use smoked varieties of any of those cheeses to give the ziti earthy flavor.
  • Stir sauteed spinach or roasted red peppers into the sauce before mixing it with the pasta, or turn the dish into a take on chicken Parmesan. Bread chicken breasts in egg, flour and seasoned bread crumbs and bake or fry them. Dice the cooked chicken and stir it into the pasta, tomato and ricotta mixture.

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