When the mercury drops, we make baked pasta dishes on repeat for cozy Sunday suppers. If you’re new to cooking these large-format classics, learning how to make baked ziti is a good place to start. It’s simpler and more forgiving than lasagna but still delivers comforting bites full of mozzarella cheese–pulls and those much coveted crunchy corners.
This baked ziti recipe is designed to stay saucy. While many call for ricotta cheese, it has a tendency to get dry and grainy when baked, so we’ve swapped it for a creamy Parmesan béchamel. And in place of meatballs, ground turkey, or Italian sausage, we prefer a bit of pancetta, which adds a salty and porky hit to homemade tomato sauce without distracting from the overall composition.
Despite this recipe’s name, ziti pasta isn’t mandatory. Any short, tube shape (like rigatoni, paccheri, or penne pasta) will do. Just be sure to cook it in a large pot of salted water until it is shy of al dente, since it will continue to cook in the oven. Finally, don’t skip out on broiling the whole baked ziti before serving, it’s key to a perfectly browned top.
Like many baked pasta recipes, this one is hearty enough that it needs little accompaniment at the table beyond a big green salad (try this one with an Italian seasoning–inspired dressing) or some fresh veggies, and perhaps some garlic bread. Refrigerate the leftovers and enjoy them all week long.