By: Felicia LaLomia, ISDA Contributor
We all know and love baked ziti. It’s that dish that is somehow always at family gatherings, and for good reason — it can feed an army, which is normally the amount of people who show up to an Italian family gathering! It’s not too difficult to throw together, and it’s (arguably) the best Italian comfort food.
But the traditional baked ziti could use some modern upgrades, and a few swaps can make your dish that much better.
Add fresh, quality ricotta, heavy cream and parmesan. Oh, and plenty of mozz.
Adding ricotta to baked ziti is nothing new, but getting quality ricotta (whole fat, please!) will improve it. Combine it with a little heavy cream and parm cheese, and it will prevent the ricotta from getting too dried out and grainy. Layer that on top of the sauce, then pasta, and top it off with chunks of low-moisture mozzarella. Repeat this sequence two or three times.
Swap the ziti for rigatoni.
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This may be a personal preference but, hear me out. Ziti has no ridges and no texture. It’s nothing special. But rigatoni has bumps and grooves that collect and absorb the sauce. It grips the cheese beautifully, and the edges get nice and crispy in the oven. Ziti’s smooth sides allow all the goodness to slide right off and back onto our plate. AKA, not in your mouth, where it should be.
Undercook your pasta.
Yes, seriously. Your noodles will be in the oven for 30 minutes to an hour. After already taking a bath in boiling water, they will be cooking a lot. You ever have a baked ziti, and the pasta just feels mushy? Take three minutes off the recommended cook time on the box, and then you will have some leeway for them to cook the rest of the way in the oven.
Taste along the way.
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There’s a lot of moving parts to baked ziti (…or baked rigatoni?). Sauce, pasta, cheese mixture. All these different elements come together in one oven-safe dish to create some gorgeous comfort food. That is why it is so important to taste all those elements along the way. A little pinch of salt in the tomato sauce can make all the difference in the dish once it has been baked. Because salting at the end, and salting at the beginning will not create the same effect.
Bake it, then broil
Part of the beauty of baked ziti is that crispy, crunchy top layer. The cheese browns nicely, the little edges of pasta crisp up and it’s kinda the best part. If your baked ziti has been in the oven for a while and that magic isn’t happening, then flip on the broiler. You can still get the same result, but you won’t dry out the sauce and cheese. Just stay close by! A browning top can turn into a burned one very quickly.
Incorporate these tips into your next baked pasta dish and let us know what you think!