This Baked Ziti is arguably one of my most popular recipes – and for good reason! It’s one of the recipes that I make for my own family most often and it’s an excellent fit for so many occasions. While I’ve entertained with this dish as it feeds a crowd easily, the times I make it most often are when I’m taking a meal to a friend.
Whether they’ve just had a baby, been sick, or just need a pick-me-up, this Baked Ziti is my go-to. When I take someone a Baked Ziti I usually bake it at home then arrive with it warm and ready to eat (and usually bring a Caesar Salad and Garlic Bread with a pint of ice cream for dessert). Or if I know they won’t be eating it that day, I’ll wrap it tightly and include instructions for freezing on top of the foil with a sharpie. They go something like this:
THAWING INSTRUCTIONS for Baked Ziti
Freeze tightly covered for up to 3 weeks. To cook, pull ziti from the freezer and defrost in your refrigerator overnight. Preheat oven to 375º F then transfer ziti to the oven (still covered with foil) for 25 minutes. Carefully remove foil, increase oven to broil and broil for 5 minutes until golden brown and bubbly. Enjoy!
One last note on this favorite recipe. It’s written as a vegetarian recipe, but about half of the time I make this recipe I’ll add 1 lb. of sweet Italian sausage to satisfy the meat lovers in my life. To make this happen I simply brown the sausage in a large skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil until golden brown and crispy. Then I’ll transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to cool. I’ll stir the cooked sausage into the sauce mixture just before combining with the pasta.
Do you have a go-to dish for taking to someone who needs a meal? This is by far my favorite!
This is my go-to meal when a friend is welcoming home a new baby or needs a helping hand with dinner, and feeds a large group so easily! It’s also #meatlessmonday friendly, as the sausage is totally optional.
1 pound cottage cheese
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ cups grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 pound ziti or rigatoni
1 (32 oz.) jar marinara sauce – I like Rao’s
½ cup chopped fresh basil leaves, plus more for garnish
cracked black pepper
¾ teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces mozzarella cheese , cut into ¼-inch pieces
Cooked Italian sausage, optional – see directions below
Preheat oven to 375°F. Whisk cottage cheese, eggs, and 1 cup Parmesan together in medium bowl; set aside. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in large pot over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon salt and add pasta; cook, stirring occasionally until pasta begins to soften but is not yet cooked through about 7 minutes. Drain pasta and leave in a colander (do not wash the pot).
Add heavy cream to the pot and whisk in cornstarch over medium heat. Bring to simmer and cook until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove pot from heat and add cottage cheese mixture, 1 cup marinara sauce, basil, and ¾ cup mozzarella, then stir to combine. (*if using Italian sausage, add here) Add pasta and stir to coat thoroughly with sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Transfer pasta mixture to 13- by 9-inch baking dish and spread remaining marinara sauce evenly over pasta. Sprinkle remaining ¾ cup mozzarella and remaining ½ cup Parmesan over top. Cover baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 25 minutes.
Remove foil and increase heat to broil. Broil for 5 minutes until golden and bubbly. Cool for 10-15 minutes. Garnish with fresh basil and serve.
*You can easily add 1 lb. of sweet Italian sausage to this recipe. Brown the sausage in a large skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil until golden brown and crispy. Then transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to cool. Stir the cooked sausage into the sauce mixture just before combining with the pasta.
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