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What's the secret to GREAT baked ziti?

Tomorrow night we are having friends over for food, drink and basketball. I plan on making a baked ziti and serve salad and bread to go along with it. My ziti is always about 90% there, but misses the mark every so slightly. I use sausage, make a tomato sauce, mix fresh mozz in it and on top. I usually bake it at about 400 for 30 minutes. Should I cover it when baking until the end? Add ricotta? Lower temp? Bake then broil?

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  1. I always undercook my pasta by a couple of minutes when I first boil it. I mix 1 lb ziti to 1 small container of ricotta with a ton pf parm and a grating of nutmeg. I let that cool and than add tomato sauce. I cook it covered, but take the foil off for the last 10 minutes.

    1. First off you need to be Italain. LOL just kidding. Ricotta and real freshly grated parmgiana reggiano and of course fresh mozzarella. As far as tyhe sauce goes lots of fresh basil IMHO.

      3 Replies
      1. re: angelo04

        I was also going to suggest grated parmigiano cheese. Pecorino Romano (finely grated) is great too. No need to cover. Make sure you get some crispy bits on top!

        1. re: Kagey

          Have a nice hunk of Parm Reg in the frig..will use that. I also have a hunk of Fontina (I'm a cheese hound), should I add that. Will note the basil.

          Signed,
          Janet from Richmond of Welsh and Scot decent

          1. re: Janet from Richmond

            Well now you're Italian by association.

            Plenty of basil, parm, mozz should be enough, but I suppose you could add a few shavings of the fontina. I've been known to add goat cheese instead of mozzarella. Oh the horror. Also, sometimes I sprinkle some finely minced parsely over top as soon as it comes out of the oven. Have fun!

      2. Personally, I would lower that heat a bit to 375. Most will probably disagree with me, but with most of my pasta casseroles, I baked covered for 25 minutes and then uncovered for another 15. I don't like it when the top gets dried out.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Val

          Oh right about the lowered temp. I forgot to add that. And, cook the pasta to just before the al dente stage because they will finish cooking in the oven.

        2. Ricotta is the secret, at least in my house. A pound of ricotta, to a pound of pasta, a packaged of chopped spinach, or a couple of pounds of sausage out of the casings, (vegetarian vs. carnivore). Mozzarella on top, and cubed and mixed through, so when it's hot, you have melted mozzarella in every spoon full. I probably use 1-1/2 quarts of sauce. This fills a 10 x 13 pyrex baking dish. I bake at 350, and don't cover for about 45 minutes.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Felixnot

            One note on ricotta...check the ingredients. You want a ricotta that contains only milk, salt, starter, etc, ingredients you'd expect to see in it. But in many brands, you'll also see things like guar gum, carrageenan, or xanthan gum. These are stabilizers, which keep the ricotta from separating, extending shelf life. But, what they also do is make the ricotta less able to melt and get creamy, so you often get that pebbly, grainy texture in the finished product. This is especially true with dishes like manicotta, but also true with BZ and lasagna. Also, you might want to beat and add a whole egg to the ricotta, maybe 1 egg per two pound of ricotta, to help out.

            1. re: ChefBoyAreMe

              in our fam the only time we added egg to the ricotta was when we were making manicotti. Otherwise we just used it straight up.

            2. re: Felixnot

              I have to agree with the ricotta- I mix my ricotta with eggs and mozzarella AND munster (as if making lasagna) with touch of sugar. Make sure to use lots of sauce- dry pasta is horrible. I also add other cheeses sometimes like a great gouda or edam or fontina... can never have too much cheese!

            3. I would even go as low as 350 with foil on until it's bubbly, then remove the foil and let the top brown up. also, i use ricotta, fresh mozz in tiny cubes that i cube myself and freshly grated parm. The key is to layer the ingredients much like a lasagna rather than mixing the ricotta, mozz and parm with the sauce.....a layer of sauce on the bottom followed by a layer of ziti to cover the sauce. blobs of ricotta disbursed throughout that layer. sprinkle the mozz and parm and ladle sauce over that and repeat ending with a layer of sauce and cheeses. and don't forget to undercook the pasta when you boil it in well salted water. i put mini meatballs that i cooked in the sauce in there, too. my husband is irish american who doesn't love pasta. so if i put meat in there, he'll eat it. sorta like hiding vegetables in things for kids.....i camo the pasta with meatballs or sausage.

              3 Replies
              1. re: eLizard

                So you don't mix the sauce with the pasta? I thought about the layering of the cheeses, but never considered layering the sauce. I will definitely lower the heat. This is for carnivores, so I will be using sausage. Thanks everyone for the help :-)

                1. re: Janet from Richmond

                  nope, i don't mix. i mixed all together (pasta, sauce, cheeses in one big bowl and then poured into the bakeing dish) exactly once to the horror of one of my sicilian relatives. it was an experiment. and it was still delicious, but the layering is much better. And I don't mix the sauce with the pasta. it happens organically during the layering if that makes sense.

                  1. re: eLizard

                    I did this once - mixed the ricotta, cooked pasta & sauce together - I was horrified by the result. The layers are a much better idea. I do mix some of the sauce with ziti, then proceed with the layers.