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Baked Ziti

Delicious baked ziti doesn't require a lot of effort to make.  It's a hearty dish that is always a crowd pleaser, and if you make a large amount of it, you may even find yourself with great leftovers.  Whenever I have a craving for it I turn to my mother-in-law's recipe because it's most tasty.  Our baked ziti doesn't include any type of ground meat or sausages like other recipes, so it's perfect for the vegetarians in your home.

A few weeks ago I found myself wanting to make some baked ziti for a get together at home, but rather than make the standard one I've been baking all of these years, I decided to try a slightly different recipe.  For that, I turned to a friend's family recipe that he kindly agreed to share here on the blog.  

Michael is such a great cook, baker and recipe archivist, especially when it comes to Italian cooking.  It never ceases to amaze me the amount of energy he puts behind every single dish he makes, even if it's a simple five-ingredient recipe for a weeknight dinner.  What I love about his version of baked ziti is that it's meatless.  Michael agrees with me in that you don't really need it for a dish like this.  The combination of mozzarella, ricotta, pecorino romano (you can substitute parmigiano-reggiano), homemade marinara and the pasta, is really all you need to make this exceptionally flavorful.

Believe me readers, I've been trying to get him to start a blog showcasing his recipes and his cooking, so we'll have to see if he decides to take the plunge some day!  

Let's get started.

Baked Ziti
  • 5 cups marinara sauce (recipe follows)
  • 1 lb. mozzarella (or 1/2 lb. mozzarella & 1/2 lb. provolone), cubed or grated
  • 1 cup grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese
  • 15 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 1 lb. ziti, cooked until al dente
Preheat the oven to 350° F (177°C)

  1. Meanwhile, heat the marinara sauce with a handful of fresh basil leaves.
  2. Cook 1 lb. of ziti in boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain and toss with 3 cups marinara sauce and 1/2 cup pecorino romano (or parmesan).
  3. Spread some marinara onto the bottom of a 2 qt. baking dish, and spoon half of the ziti into the pan.
  4. Spread the ricotta cheese and all of the mozzarella over the layer.  Sprinkle with about 1/4 cup pecorino (or parmesan).  
  5. Spread 1 cup marinara over the layer.
  6. Add the final amount of ziti and pour another cup of marinara sauce.
  7. Sprinkle the pasta with the remaining 1/4 cup of pecorino (or parmesan).
  8. Cover the top of the dish with a piece of parchment and with a piece of aluminum foil.
  9. Bake approximately for 45 minutes, uncover and continue baking for 15 minutes more.
  10. Remove from oven (cover it with the foil) and let the dish rest for 30 minutes before serving.
Serves 6-8

Marinara Sauce

  • Two 28 oz. cans San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, left whole
  • 2 tablespoons red wine (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • small handful of fresh basil (chopped right before needed)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  1. Heat approximately 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil in a deep saucepan.  Add the onions and garlic.  Sauté the onions until translucent, then add the two cans of San Marzano tomatoes, red wine (if using) and the bay leaf.  Bring to a simmer.
  2. Cover and simmer for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove the bay leaf, salt and pepper to taste, and continue cooking for approximately 25 minutes.
  4. Stir in the 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, the chopped fresh basil, and simmer for 5 more minutes, uncovered.
  5. Turn off the heat and remove the garlic cloves.
  6. Use as desired.

This photo shows you the first layer of ziti, piled with cheeses and marinara.

The final layer gets covered in more marinara sauce and a generous amount of either freshly grated pecorino romano or parmesan.  Do yourselves a favor and buy a wedge of these cheeses.  Never use cheese that has already been grated for you.  

A generous helping of baked ziti and a small salad, along with a glass of red wine (a sangiovese or even a chianti classico will do) is all you need to make it a hearty lunch or dinner.  Don't be surprised if you find yourself or your guests wanting seconds.  It's that good!

Thank you Michael for sharing your family's recipe.  It's a guarantee that I'll be revisiting this baked pasta in the near future.  


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