You know how sometimes baked ziti is good, and sometimes it’s REALLY good?
Today I’d like to introduce you to a REALLY GOOD BAKED ZITI.
This recipe has been tested and tweaked and loved and devoured many times over to get it just right. And I think we landed it. It’s minimal. It’s bubbly and browned, extra creamy, extra saucy, with just the right flavors and textures to make the whole thing into a baked pasta masterpiece.
It is simplicity at its finest: just chewy noodles, a deeply flavored tomato sauce, the right blend of melted cheese, and a creaminess that cuts the tang of tomato sauce as it oozes into every bite.
Does Baked Ziti Have Meat?
Some recipes call for ground meat in the tomato sauce, and you can certainly add that here if you want. However, I wanted this to be a mostly-meatless baked ziti, so I skipped the ground meat.
We do have some pancetta in the sauce to give it a little extra flavor, but that could easily be omitted to make this a vegetarian baked ziti.
What About Ricotta Cheese?
In this recipe, no.
Many people (including myself) find that ricotta cheese that you buy from the store gets a little dry, crumbly, and – I’m sorry to say – gritty, once it gets baked in the oven in between all those pasta layers.
In all my testing and research of the best baked ziti recipes out there, I found that most recipes use one of three options for that middle creamy-cheesy layer.
- Ricotta cheese (this is traditional, but it often gets dry)
- Bechamel sauce (gets you the creaminess, but requires you to make yet another sauce)
- Mascarpone cheese (super creamy, minimal effort)
I used mascarpone cheese as the middle creamy-cheesy layer in this baked ziti recipe because the texture is most luscious and creamy. And bonus – it’s extremely easy. I add some flavor to mine by salting it and grating a clove of fresh garlic in with it, and ooooooh yes. It is so good.
This is critical for getting the best possible creamy texture in between those cheese and noodle crevices, so don’t skip it!
What to Serve with Baked Ziti
Um, so glad you asked.
This can totally stand on it’s own as a meal and that’s how I roll for real-life dinners at home. But if you’re looking for something to round this out into a more multi-dimensional meal or impress friends with a full blown dinner party spread, you could try:
- This bread and kale salad (SO GOOD!)
- OR this brussels and kale caesar salad
- No-knead bread (carbs on carbs is so right)
- Some chicken parm to top it off (ambitious! but YUM)
Whether you finish this off with some cracked black pepper, fresh basil ribbons, or a swish of garlic oil, this melted cheesy, tomato sauce-y, perfectly creamy baked ziti heaven awaits you.
Check out our video for how to make Three Cheese Baked Ziti:
Three Cheese Baked Ziti that is bubbly and browned, extra creamy, extra saucy, and incredibly easy with NO RICOTTA! A baked pasta masterpiece.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 ounce pancetta, finely chopped (optional)
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 28-oz. can tomato sauce
1 14-oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt (more to taste)
The Baked Ziti
- 1 pound ziti
- 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
- 1 clove garlic, grated
- pinch of salt
- 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 8 ounces provolone cheese, shredded
- Sauce: Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add pancetta and sauté until slightly crisped, about 5 minutes. Add onion and garlic; turn heat down and sauté for 5 minutes. Add red pepper flakes and tomato paste; sauté for 2 minutes. Add tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, and salt. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.
- Ziti: Cook ziti according to package directions. Toss with about two thirds of the pasta sauce. Reserve remaining 2-or-so cups of sauce.
- Mascarpone: Mix mascarpone with grated garlic and a pinch of salt.
- Layering: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Transfer half of the pasta to a 9×13 baking dish. Spoon the mascarpone over the top in little blobs. Cover with half of the mozzarella and half of the provolone. Cover with about a cup of sauce. Transfer the rest of the saucy ziti on top of your cheese layer. Finish with remaining mozzarella, provolone, and spoon the remaining sauce around on top for prettiness.
- Bake: Bake for 20 minutes until warm, delicious, molten-cheesy, and bubbly. Top with some parmesan, fresh basil, or freshly cracked black pepper to be a baked ziti superstar.
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Bake
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: baked ziti, three cheese baked ziti, baked pasta, baked spaghetti
One more thing!
This recipe is part of our collection of Easy Italian Recipes. Check it out!