"The end result is not quite the fantastic cheesy gut-bomb so commonly associated with baked ziti."
I cannot recall the last time I ate baked ziti but know for a fact I never would have attempted the classic dish if not for finding this recipe in The Best Skillet Recipes from the editors of Cooks Illustrated. I don't think they have ever steered me wrong.
As a pasta lover, I make it often but usually indulge in simple preparations where the sauce acts mostly in the supporting role to the pasta. But baked ziti is all about the abundant combination of sauce, pasta, and cheese. It's heavy, filling, and meant to be an indulgence. I wondered whether Cooks Illustrated would elevate this classic or just embrace the excess. Luckily they go for the former.
The great thing about this recipe is that, as the cookbook advertises, everything happens in one pot. So the pasta literally cooks in the sauce, sucking up as much of the tomato flavor as it can possibly manage. Relatively light on the cheese, this substitutes a bit of heavy cream, which oddly makes the whole dish feel light. The end result is not quite the fantastic cheesy gut-bomb so commonly associated with baked ziti, but that's probably for the best. Still satisfying and creamy classic, this baked ziti is slightly more refined and definitely less greasy.
- 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 6 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper
- 3 cups water
- 12 ounces ziti
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 ounce Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 4 ounces mozzarella, shredded
Preheat the oven to 475°F. Meanwhile, pour the whole can of tomatoes into a blender or food processor. Process until the tomatoes are roughly chopped, not pureed.
Pour the oil into a large oven-safe skillet set over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flake and cook for about 1 minute, or until fragrant. Dump in the chopped tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Pour in the water, stir, and then add the pasta. Turn the heat back up to medium-high. Cook until the pasta is tender, about 15 minutes.
Add the cream, Parmesan, and basil. Stir well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Then sprinkle the mozzarella on top. Place skillet in the oven and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the cheese has melted and slightly browned.