Baked ziti is just the best.
I’m a big fan of any recipe that consists of take a bunch of delicious, cheesy stuff, throw it into a casserole dish aaaaaaaaaaand bake. Baked ziti is pretty much the best culmination of this idea. Toss some pasta, a bit of sauce and as much cheese as money can buy into your dish and it’s bound to turn out amazing. And all this without the hassle of trying to carefully line up lasagna sheets (which always stick together goddamnit!) or making a rollatini.
Now with all that simplicity being said, there are a few easy things that you can do to amp up the flavor and set your ziti apart from the ziti rabble:
- Sweet god don’t use pre-made jarred sauce, and do cook the tomatoes out to remove the tinny flavor. Building your own sauce is advisable at all times, and even if all you need is just tomatoes make sure to give them some love in a sauce pan. Tomatoes right out of the can test like…well can. Can isn’t an awesome flavor, so remove it by simmering with some basic spices.
- Use a few different kinds of cheese. I’m sure I don’t need to talk you into adding lots and lots of cheese, but to build deeper flavors it’s important to vary it up. I’d recommend a mix of soft cheeses like mozzarella or ricotta and hard, Italian cheeses like parm-regg or Asiago. In fact, do all of them! That will give you a nice mix of textures and flavors to make for a Ziti you’ll stare longingly across the room at.
- Put a little thought into how you arrange things in your casserole dish. I know this flies in the face of the entire premise of just carelessly tossing everything into a dish and baking, but trust me it’s worth a bit of time time and forethought. Start with a bit of sauce first so the bottom doesn’t burn. While big gobs of cheese are awesome, if they’re too big they can dry out so make sure you’re folding in cheese appropriately.
Now you can certainly get as fancy as you want when making a baked ziti. The beauty is that it’s kind of a blank canvas where the canvas is also fucking delicious. Feel free to sautee some onions, throw in some sassages or whatever makes you smile. But follow at least these basic tips and your ziti will be better than your friends’. Also beyond tasty, but mostly you can lord it over other people with how much better you are as a cook. And that, more than anything is what cooking is all about!
Not Chef Jared