Monday, June 6, 2011

The Best Baked Ziti

Being from an Italian-American family, I've both made and eaten a lot of baked ziti in my day.

Now, don't tell my grandma - but I have honestly never had it taste this good before!

I always enjoyed baked ziti, but let's be honest - it's usually nothing special.

Half the time it comes out kind of mushy and grainy, and the pasta sucks up all the sauce.  Or I've also had the opposite happen, where it comes out way too soupy and the mixture never sets.


Now the method below requires a little more work than your typical baked ziti, but it avoids all of the above problems... so it's totally worth it.

What's worse than putting in all this effort, then taking that first spoonful out of the pan only to realize it didn't come out the way you were hoping?


Been there, hated that.

So... trust me on this one?

I know.  It's hard.  The cottage cheese weirded me out too.  But seriously, just give it a try.

Mr. Vittles could not tell that there was cottage cheese in this, and you won't be able to either.  I promise.

Just do me one favor, ok?

Don't use crappy tomato sauce.  You'll be sorry.

And then you'll complain to me that this doesn't taste any good, and you'll think it's the cottage cheese that you SWORE was a weird idea, when the truth is that nothing can ruin a dish like this quicker than God-awful tomato sauce.

So just don't do it.

Spend the extra couple bucks on a good brand with simple ingredients, or better yet - make your own!

The Best Baked Ziti

  • 16 oz. whole wheat ziti (or any other tubular pasta, such as penne)
  • 2 C. small-curd, lowfat cottage cheese
  • 2 eggs (or 1/2 C. egg replacement)
  • 1/2 C. freshly shredded parmesan or romano cheese, divided
  • 3 1/2 C. tomato sauce, divided (I used this recipe, but cut the crushed red pepper in half)
  • 3/4 t. cornstarch
  • 1/2 t. garlic powder
  • 1/4 C. heavy cream
  • 3/4 C. lowfat or whole milk
  • 1 1/2 C. freshly grated mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 2 T. chopped, fresh basil
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine cottage cheese, eggs, and 1/4 C. parmesan cheese in a small bowl.  Set aside.  Grease a 13x9 baking pan and set that aside as well.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook only 5 or 6 minutes. (You want it to half-cook now, and do the rest of the cooking in the oven.  This prevents it from getting mushy.)

Drain pasta in colander, and return now-empty pot to stove over medium-low to medium heat.  Add cornstarch, garlic powder, cream, and milk.  Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, 3-4 minutes.

Remove cream sauce from heat, and add cottage cheese mixture along with 1 C. tomato sauce and 1 C. mozzarella cheese.  Stir to combine, then add pasta.  Stir to coat thoroughly with the sauce.

Transfer pasta to prepared baking dish, and spread evenly in dish.  Pour remaining 2 1/2 C. tomato sauce over top, and spread in even layer.  Sprinkle chopped basil, freshly ground pepper, and remaining 1/4 C. parmesan over the top.  Then sprinkle with remaining 1/2 C. mozzarella (feel free to use more if you like it super cheesy!)

Cover dish tightly with foil and bake 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and take foil off top of dish.  Bake an additional 15 minutes uncovered, then remove from oven and serve.

Recipe Adapted from Cook's Illustrated


  1. This looks like the Best Ziti! I am willing to put in a little bit of work, if it tastes as good as it looks!

  2. Is it weird that I actually like cottage cheese? This sounds so yummy to me! Thank you for sharing it... Bookmarking it right now! Everyone here will love it!

  3. Ciao Maggie, I adooooore ziti. It is my favourite kind of pasta. I like your blog and the way you write. I even have put your blog in my list of favourite blogs.

  4. Thanks for posting such a delicious item! I have had my problems with making ziti as well as lasagna, so I will need to try this. Great pic.

  5. Comforting food at its best :)

  6. I haven't had baked ziti since living under my mama's roof. I haven't thought about it again until you posted this recipe and now I feel the urge to head to the store to buy the ingredients. Yummy!

  7. I've never been impressed with any baked zitis I've made for the very reasons you stated. It always sounds so good, but falls short. Thank you for finding a wonderful recipe...I'll definitely print it off and try it :)

  8. My mom's baked ziti is essentially penne, Ragu and some ricotta. I think I'll go with yours, but don't tell her I said that. I'm drooling just looking at the picture!

  9. Oooooh this sounds crazy-good!! I haven't had baked ziti in years... I am going to forward this to my Mom...she'll love me for it! :))

  10. That is too funny. I have the exact same opinion about homemade pizza....don't use crappy tomato sauce! :) Especially for dishes that take a bit of extra work. This looks hearty and delicious.

  11. This is a part of a carb lovers dream!!!

  12. Baked ziti is one of those dishes my family never had so Im not experianced with the ups and downs of it - however I will have to try this. The cottage cheese has my eye brows raised. I cant wait to try.

  13. This recipe looks fabulous! I shared your recipe on my Must Try Tuesday blog post last week.

    Thanks for sharing a great recipe!


  14. Agree with you, this is the best ziti. I think it is a great recipe and i`m sure it is delicious, i can`t wait to try it. Thanks a lot for sharing with us.

  15. Thanks for the tips. I absolutely have to applaud your statement about using crappy sauce. If you take the time and effort to make a good ziti/lasagne/spaghetti, take the time to make or buy a good sauce. I have used a truly magnificent homemade bolognese sauce in my lasagne and ziti and get rave reviews for it. I also use cottage cheese in my italian baked items, or a combination of ricotta, parmesan and mozzerella. The ricotta has the same texture as cottage cheese and I use the cc or ricotta at will, or if I don't have one of them on hand.

  16. This is the best baked ziti recipe I've ever tried! I never would have thought to use cottage cheese, because I really can't stand the stuff, but it was wonderful in the recipe! My only critique is that I would definitely use more sauce. My noodles toward the bottom of the pan were kind of dry, and your sauce recipe is so delicious I can't think of a single reason why I shouldn't use MORE of it! Thanks for a great dish!

    1. That's great, I'm so glad you liked both recipes! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  17. Made this a few nights ago and used your recipe for the spicy tomato sauce. My boyfriend is extremely picky and hard to please when it comes to food and he said it was so good he didn't care there was no meat in it- dubbed it his "favorite vegetarian dish!" he even asked for the sauce recipe! thanks for posting this awesome recipe.

    1. Aww this totally made my day! I'm so glad to hear he enjoyed both recipes :) Thank you for your comment!

  18. Love Italian dishes, this looks just beautiful! My family may be seeing this on the table soon!

  19. Nice post!!

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