BAKED ZITI is, admittedly, not a very pretty dish. But it’s absolutely delicious, and a kid-pleaser, to boot. (With my picky-eater children, this is a huge thing!)
The most time consuming part about BAKED ZITI is preparing the marinara sauce. This takes about 15 minutes for the normal person, and about 25 minutes for obsessive people – like me – who rather than buy canned chopped tomatoes, buy canned whole and then cut out the stem ends, imperfections, and any skin. THEN I chop them. (I’m not sure the companies do all that – I suspect they just wash them and throw them in a machine.)
However, if you like this BAKED ZITI recipe, next time double, triple, etc. the marinara and freeze in portions for future use. The rest of the recipe is very easy and quick.
I guess this would be a good time to acknowledge that while the preparation is fast, the bake time is 1 hour, plus a 20 minute set time. BUT THIS IS ALL HANDS OFF!!!
BAKED ZITI – makes 5-6 servings (unless you have a teenager)
- 1 T olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, pressed
- 14 oz tomato sauce
- 8 oz canned whole tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 tsp dried or 1½ tsp fresh oregano
- 1/4 cup + 1 T fresh basil, chopped
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/8 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 lb uncooked ziti (or other tubular pasta)
- 1/2 tsp cornstarch
- 1/2 cup cream
- 1 egg
- 2¼ oz (3/4 cup) Parmesan cheese, grated, divided
- 1/2 lb whole milk cottage cheese
- 3½ oz (1 cup) Mozzarella cheese, shredded, divided
If you already have the marinara sauce made, then go straight to the Casserole instructions.
Marinara: In a large skillet or saucepan heat the olive oil over medium flame. Add in the garlic and sauté about 30 seconds – until fragrant. Turn off heat and add in the tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, and oregano. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then lower flame to maintain the simmer. Cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes to thicken a bit. Turn off heat and stir in 1/4 cup basil, sugar, and pepper.
Casserole: Bring 2 quarts of water to a full boil. Add in 1/2 T salt and the ziti. Cook for 5 minutes. SET A TIMER! You don’t need to cook it fully right now – it will continue to cook in the oven. Pour pasta into a strainer to drain, but don’t shake it to remove water.
While pasta is cooking, combine cornstarch and cream in a small bowl. In another bowl, beat egg with a fork then mix in 1/2 cup (1.5 oz) Parmesan and cottage cheese. Once the pasta is draining, pour the cornstarch-cream mixture into the now-empty pot. Over a low heat, bring to boil. Immediately turn off flame and stir in the cottage cheese mixture. Add in half of the mozzarella and 1/2 cup of the marinara. Stir in the cooked ziti, breaking up stuck together pasta. Pour into an 8″ x 8″ casserole dish (or it’s equivalent). Top with remaining marinara sauce, then sprinkle on remaining mozzarella, followed by the rest of the Parmesan. Cover with a lid or foil and bake at 350º Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake an additional 30 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle on 1 T basil. Let set 20 minutes before serving.