Pasta is the ultimate crowd pleasing dish. What’s not to love about gooey, bubbling cheese, juicy tomato sauce, and perfectly cooked pasta? When you need a simple recipe to feed a crowd or take to a potluck, try our family’s favorite baked ziti casserole.
Life’s crazy. My particular brand of cray cray these days? Hungry TEENAGERS. I’m always looking for meals I can make ahead and pop in the freezer. Then, I have something to serve when the kiddos have spontaneous sleepovers or decide to invite the team over for supper. Just to be clear, meals like baked ziti casserole don’t replace pizza deliveries in our house — it’s in addition! I so wish I could eat like a teen.
My advice if you are entering an era of feeding teens — keep several casseroles in the freezer, buy more bacon than you can possibly imagine, and there’s no such thing as enough M&Ms.
- 12 ounces (1 ½ cups) ricotta cheese
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Salt & pepper
- 3 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
- 1 ½ cups Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 ½ lbs box ziti
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 (28-oz) cans crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup fresh basil, torn into small pieces
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- In a bowl, mix ricotta, 2 tablespoons olive oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper. In a separate bowl, combine mozzarella and Parmesan.
- Cook pasta according to package directions, until al dente. Reserve 1 ½ cups pasta cooking water. Drain pasta, and set aside.
- In a large Dutch oven, add remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add garlic, and pepper flakes, and cook over medium heat until fragrant, but not brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and simmer, about 15 minutes. Stir in cooked pasta and reserved cooking water. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour half of pasta mixture into 13 x 9-inch baking dish. Dollop large spoonfuls of ricotta mixture evenly over pasta. Pour remaining pasta mixture over ricotta.
- Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.
- Bake until center is bubbling and cheese begins to brown, 25-35 minutes. Let casserole cool for 10 minutes, sprinkle with basil, and serve.
- To make ahead: Unbaked casserole can be refrigerated for up to 1 day. To serve, cover dish tightly with foil and bake in 400-degree oven until bubbly hot, 30 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake until cheese is browned, 25-30 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh basil and serve.