Authentic Italian Baked Ziti Recipe
This baked ziti recipe is a classic Italian dinner, perfect for a family or friend gathering. In Italian it’s called Pasta al forno for a reason: you cook your pasta, prepare you sauce, add cheese and then bake everything in the oven to get the perfect golden brown crust.
Rich and very tasty, there’s not just one authentic Italian baked ziti recipe! In fact, like all traditional recipes, the recipe is handed down in the family and for this reason every family has its own version that over the years is perfected and enters by right in the recipe book to be transmitted to posterity.
All the recipes have one thing in common: the pasta is first cooked in boiling salted water, then seasoned with tomato sauce or ragù, mozzarella and homemade béchamel and finally baked in the oven, after having been sprinkled with Parmesan. Baking in the oven allows the various ingredients to blend well, giving life to a tasty and stringy dish, golden on the surface and delicious.
The basic recipe is prepared with tomato sauce or a proper Italian ragù but there are many variations without sauce, without meat and so on.
Let’s be honest: this baked ziti recipe is designed to be customised to the maximum and, why not, to be made by using those ingredients that we have in the fridge and we want to recycle.
Just think about it: also the mac and cheese can be seen as a variation of this baked ziti recipe, without forgetting my (extremely) loved Italian pasta au gratin. And, if you want to think big, a classic Italian lasagna is also a type of baked pasta.
One of the reasons why baked pasta is so much loved in Italy and everywhere is simple: baked ziti can be prepared in advance and put in the refrigerator before being then (re) baked in the oven, or it can also be frozen and pulled out as needed.
Not only that, because with the passing of the days (up to 3, stored in the refrigerator) it becomes even better and tastier.
The following baked ziti recipe is the basic one, traditional and from my family; if you dare, prepare the Neapolitan-style baked pasta, seasoning the pasta with fried meatballs, scamorza, Neapolitan salami, tomato sauce and grated Parmesan.
Enjoy the best baked ziti recipe, from Italy with love!
Ingredients for for 4 portions
- 400 grams of ziti pasta
- 500 grams of Italian tomato passata
- 1/2 onion
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 medium mozzarella cheeses
- 4 tablespoons of butter
- 4 tablespoons of all purpose flour
- 2 cups of milk
- Nutmeg to taste
- Grated black pepper to taste
- Prepare the béchamel following this method, then place it in a deep dish so that it becomes warm, covering it with film to make it form condensation capable of keeping the béchamel moist;
- Prepare a quick sauce by quickly frying the chopped onion in a little oil then adding the passata. Adjust the salt, cook over medium heat and when the sauce reaches a boil, lower the heat and cook for 20-25 minutes;
- Once the sauce is ready, put the pasta to cook and in the meantime turn the oven to 200°C.
- Cut the mozzarella into cubes or slices.
- Drain the pasta al dente and put it in a large bowl, then season it with the sauce and the mozzarella (leaving little of both aside) and mix.
- Also add the béchamel sauce leaving little aside.
- Pour the pasta into a buttered non-stick pan, distribute it well and add the remaining mozzarella and the remaining béchamel to the surface;
- Level with a spoon, sprinkle with Parmesan and place in the oven. Cook for about 15-20 minutes at 180°C;
- Leave in the oven, with the grill function activated, for 3-4 minutes more, making sure that it does not burn but grills only;
- Remove from the oven, let it set for about 3 minutes and serve.
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 40 minutes
Total time: 1.2 hours
Tips for making this baked ziti recipe
- The bottom and the edges of the pan should always be greased with butter: despite the presence of several fats (mozzarella and béchamel), the pasta risks sticking if the pan is not greased for good. Instead of butter you can use oil but the flavour of the final dish may change;
- Cook the pasta more or less 3 minutes short of the package directions for al dente pasta so to prevent your past from becoming overcooked since it will cook more while baking;
- As a matter of fact you should never use a mozzarella cheese substitute and the same applies to a Parmesan cheese substitute: these are the two main ingredients of this recipe and if you swap them for something else, the final result will not be as pleasant as it should be. Also, the mozzarella helps in making sure your pasta won’t be dried once cut [Read more about real mozzarella cheese here];
- The final sprinkling of Parmesan is necessary to ensure that the surface is crunchy. To make it even more crunchy you can sprinkle it with Parmesan and then add small curls of butter here and there to make it perfectly brown during cooking;
- For your tomato sauce, you can use fresh tomatoes or passata. Passata is an uncooked tomato purée strained of seeds and skins. Never use a tomato sauce or a tomato paste for your sauce, ’cause they’re already cooked and your sauce won’t taste so good. If you cannot find tomato passata, the best substitution is tomato purée or, even better, use plain canned tomatoes and run them through a sieve or a food mill top get the same exact result.
- To make this pasta al forno you should always use short pasta (ziti, rigatoni, penne, etc) but you can opt for tagliatelle: once cut, the pasta will be full bodied and the result at the table will be pleasant.