This is, in some ways, a classic meatless baked ziti, loaded with pools of cheese and rich tomato sauce. But it gets rid of the one thing that can often make baked ziti less than great: grainy ricotta cheese. Instead, we drizzle it with an over-the-top Parmesan cream. Trust us, you won't miss the ricotta.
Why this recipe works:
- Omitting ricotta cheese, which is often unpleasantly grainy, and replacing it with an indulgently cheesy cream sauce guarantees that this ziti will be full of flavor without any bad textures.
- Two mozzarellas—low-moisture and fresh—deliver both the best melting properties and the best fresh milky flavor.
- The Parmesan cream sauce is quick and easy to prepare, and can be made while the ziti bakes.
- 1 1/2 pounds dried ziti pasta
- 4 cups tomato sauce, such as The Best Slow-Cooked Red Sauce, Rich and Hearty One-Hour Red Sauce, or The Best Fresh Tomato Sauce, divided
- 2 cups diced low-moisture mozzarella (about 10 ounces)
- 2 cups diced fresh mozzarella (about 10 ounces), divided
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 2 ounces grated Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese (about 1 cup)
- Torn fresh basil leaves, for serving
Preheat oven to 400°F and position rack in center. Boil pasta in a medium pot of salted boiling water until about halfway cooked (about 6 1/2 minutes for pasta that will be al dente in 9 minutes). Reserve 1/2 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta.
In a large mixing bowl, combine pasta with 2 1/2 cups tomato sauce, reserved 1/2 cup pasta-cooking water, low-moisture mozzarella, and 1 cup fresh mozzarella. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Scrape into baking dish and press into an even layer.
Drizzle remaining 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce all over top of pasta.
Scatter remaining 1 cup mozzarella all over, cover with aluminum foil, and bake for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, gently simmer cream over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle in Parmigiano-Reggiano into cream and whisk until completely melted and sauce is smooth. Season with salt. Keep warm.
Increase oven to 450°F, uncover baked ziti, and cook until just starting to brown on top, about 10 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes. Top with basil leaves, spoon onto plates, and drizzle with Parmesan cream. Serve immediately.