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