Baked Ziti is one of my favorite pasta dishes, but it's hardly a quick and easy weeknight meal: boil the pasta, make the sauce, cook the sausage, shred the cheese, assemble it all... then bake it for a cruelly long time. Enter my genius friends at America's Test Kitchen. Just as they did with lasagna, they've created a way to have a bowl full of pasta goodness on your table in just over thirty minutes. For real.
This couldn't be any easier. First, you cook the sausage in a big skillet; throw in plenty of garlic, just enough red pepper flakes to give it a little kick, and crushed tomatoes. Then comes the best part: stir in uncooked noodles and some water, and the pasta cooks directly in the pan, simultaneously absorbing that delicious tomato sauce. Finish it off with some cream, basil, and cheese, and after a brief stint in the oven, it emerges as a perfectly cheesy, creamy, and oh-so comforting pasta dish.
I have made baked ziti countless times, and this is just as good as the best version we've had in the past. And the fact that it's made completely in ONE dish, and in under an hour? Definite win.
adapted from America's Test Kitchen's Pasta Revolution
serves 4 to 6
- 1 lb sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (or more or less to your taste)
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 (28-oz) can crushed tomatoes
- 3 cups water
- 12 oz ziti
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 4 oz (about 1 cup) freshly grated mozzarella cheese
Heat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a 12-inch oven-safe skillet set over medium-high heat, brown the sausage until no longer pink, about 4 minutes, breaking up any large pieces with a wooden spoon. Stir in the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently for 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the water and ziti and stir to combine. Cover, increase the heat to medium, and cook at a vigorous simmer, stirring often, 15 to 18 minutes, until the pasta is just tender.
Remove from heat and stir in the cream, 1/2 cup of the Parmesan, and 3 tablespoons of the basil. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Sprinkle the mozzarella and remaining 1/4 cup of parmesan over the top, and transfer to the oven. Bake until the cheese has melted and browned, and the sauce is bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of basil and serve.