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Our site's Best Baked Ziti

Our site's Best Baked Ziti

We know ricotta is a traditional addition to baked ziti, but it has a tendency to get dry and grainy when baked. Our update uses a creamy Parmesan béchamel, in addition to a tangy tomato sauce, which together make for a super flavorful finished dish—that won’t dry out in the oven. This is part of Our site's Best, a collection of our essential recipes.


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2¼ cups whole milk, slightly warmed
  • 2½ cups grated Parmesan, divided
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 1 ounce pancetta (Italian bacon), finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 28-oz. can plus 1 14-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 pound ziti, penne, or rigatoni
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, cut into ½" pieces

Recipe Preparation

  • Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium until foamy. Sprinkle flour over and cook, whisking constantly, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in warm milk. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, whisking often, until béchamel is thickened to about the consistency of heavy cream and no longer feels grainy when rubbed between your fingers, 8–10 minutes (thoroughly cooking the mixture ensures a creamy sauce and eliminates any raw flour flavor). Remove from heat and add 2 cups Parmesan, whisking until cheese is melted and sauce is smooth. Set aside.

  • Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high. Cook pancetta, stirring often, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until onion is golden and soft, 8–10 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook, stirring, until slightly darkened, about 2 minutes.

  • Add whole peeled tomatoes, crushing with your hands as you go, and season with salt and pepper. Bring sauce to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until slightly reduced and flavors have melded, 20–25 minutes. Let cool slightly, then transfer to a blender; pulse until mostly smooth (or use an immersion blender and purée directly in pot). Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper.

  • Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, about 5 minutes (the pasta will continue to cook in the oven); drain.

  • Transfer reserved béchamel to a large bowl; add pasta and mozzarella and toss to combine. Add all but 1 cup tomato sauce and gently fold mixture a few times, leaving streaks of béchamel.

  • Transfer pasta mixture to a 13x9" or other 3-quart baking dish, dollop with remaining tomato sauce, and scatter remaining Parmesan over pasta. Bake until mozzarella is melted and sauce is bubbling around the edges, 15–20 minutes.

  • Heat broiler. Broil until pasta and cheese are dark brown in spots, about 4 minutes. Let pasta sit 5 minutes before serving.

Reviews SectionZITI GOOD. MAKE AGAIN YES. THANK U.AnonymousChicago, IL08/09/20This baked ziti is soooo good. It's a little involved but it's a great Sunday project. The bechamel is an amazing addition that really takes this to the next level. It's a lot of food and I'm just one person so I usually freeze half. It reheats really nicely.I followed the recipe exactly and it turned out AWESOME!! The whole family Loved it, even my picky 6 year old.FoodieGyrlHouston, TX05/18/20Quarantine 2020 version:Halved to make 4 serving-used dried parm and 2% milk in white sauce.Used 4 baby Bella mushrooms (no pancetta or bacon) , 1/2 large shallot,1/4 onion, 2 - 14 oz cans diced tomatoes with basil ,garlic,& oregano in red sauce. 4oz cubed mozzarella (all we had- it was plenty), and the 1/2 c good parm I had for the top and serving. It was delicious !! I started the red sauce and then did white sauce following a suggestion from Australia-thx😊 The red sauce would be good tossed with fettuccine.annie.mMinneapolis 05/06/20Also just want to add that the sauce consistency was perfect for us - cooking the sauce for ~25 minutes is important! I wonder if you could just start with the tomato sauce first and make the béchamel while the tomato sauce is reducing to save some time....AnonymousAUSTRALIA05/01/20Soooo good. I didn't use pancetta, and instead stirred through a few handfuls of spinach after roughly blending the tomato sauce. I also halved the amount of mozzarella which made it cheesy enough for my family. Not sure if I broke the rules but I added pepper to the béchamel, and used dried chilli and oregano in the sauce for more flavour and kick because I was scared it would overall be a bit bland (but it definitely wasn't for us!). It's very easy to make with pantry ingredients, you just have to wait for cooking/baking, during which time you can just clean up anyway.AnonymousAustralia05/01/20This was a hit. I substituted Parmesan for Gruyere and made a Mornay beshamel and doubled the panchetta and it came out super delish.AnonymousLos Angeles, CA04/18/20The whole family agrees - definitely the best ziti we've ever had! Very saucy, but the perfect amount of saucy - no one likes dry ziti. Skipped the pancetta and didn't miss it a bit. We let the tomato sauce simmer so it was pretty thick. Worth the effort and definitely will make again.AnonymousMinneapolis, MN03/28/20So I’m the only one who ended up making a soupy-cheesy dish? It was tasty but obviously way too much sauce. Not sure where I went wrong!The best ziti recipe I’ve ever tasted! Yes it is time consuming but it is so worth the effort. My kids are so picky and this is the first home cooked meal that Incan recall all of us eating as a family. I made it as written except I didn’t use the cup of reserved sauce on top because it seemed too saucy and I’m glad that I didn’t because it was perfect after it was bakedWhat can I say except “hell yeah”?! Took a little while to make, but that’s probably only because I had just made an intense chocolate cake and was a little tired.AnonymousFresno, CA12/24/19This was absolutely delicious! Extremely heavy so couldn’t eat too much of it. Will definitely make again but will have plenty of salad to go with it!Wow. This ziti gives me heart eyes. This recipe is an instant classic with its simple ingredients, and it is so delicious.Emily TWashington, DC09/28/18Sometimes, it really is the small things that make all the difference in the world. This recipe is stratospheric! The key takeaways are: make cheese sauce and make marinara separately. Don't be tempted to skip on those steps. Next, don't mix the pasta sauces with the pasta too much--the swirls of sauces left unmixed are delightful! You don't need much as far as a protein add-in. No need for pancetta--use what you have on hand, but keep it minimal. I used a handful of chopped up leftover charcuterie from a prior pizza-making adventure--and it worked beautifully. Any add-ins--artichokes, chopped kalamatas, zucchini, etc.--should be added to the pasta BEFORE adding the sauce (to maintain the sauce swirls, as noted above). Lastly, the topping with the last bit of sauce and a layer of parmesan--then BROILING just a few minutes to get a light crust--well, that's the pièce de résistance! Our family practically fought over the crusty bits on top. Heavenly, doable. Great the next day. Will never go back to one-sauce baked pasta!This is delicious! Even withouth the basil, which I did not have (and my kid doesn't like anyway). Best ziti recipe I have found yet. You can use jarred sauce and you can skip the pancetta, to make it easier for weeknight dinner, and it's still really really good.

Watch the video: The Best BAKED ZITI Recipe EVER: Baked Ziti With Italian Sausage (November 2020).