Baked Pasta dishes like this Baked Ziti or Penne Pasta are pretty much ubiquitous. They’re everywhere, and with good reason. They’re fast, easy, cheap and filling and they taste amazing!
The funny thing was, I had never heard of them until I was hunting down my kid one day and happened over to a neighbors as she was pulling this out of the oven. That was way back when, my “kid” is almost 30, but she was astounded I’d never had it. After that afternoon, it’s been on my rotation ever since.
About Baked Ziti or Penne Pasta:
This is one of those little basic dishes you can practically make in your sleep and you can make it at it’s most basic (boy, has it gotten us through some tough times that way) and just cook some pasta, add a jarred sauce, maybe a little Mozzarella in it and some parmesan (Kraft will do) on top and toss it in the oven. It’s likely you have everything you need in your pantry.
But like any recipe, you can always add all your special little touches and take it from basic to outstanding with very little effort. A little care can really make this recipe shine!
How to Make the Baked Ziti or Penne Pasta:
Here are all the hints and helps you’ll need to make the Best Baked Ziti or Penne Pasta! I know many of you know all this already but just in case, here’s a quick review of the critical steps and extra touches I love:
- Be very careful about the length of time the noodles are boiled; they must be just about al dente, but not done enough so you’d want to eat them w/o cooking them an extra minute or so. They cook more in the casserole.
- Have everything ready to assemble and use the noodles well-drained, but still piping hot and get it into the oven immediately. (I’ve been guilty of making this in “stages” but it really is better done all in a quick succession.)
- Watch the casserole and use the baking time as a guide only. About 15 to 20 minutes tops. This should come out when just hot and bubbly and the cheese is melted; if not it will be just mediocre.
There are always a few ways to elevate your pasta dish. I do have a pasta recipe on my site here I call Cheesy Pasta Bake that’s outstanding (lots of meat and wine and cheese, oh my) but to help this one along while keeping the simple spirit and not going into too much production:
- If budget allows, use fresh mozzarella and Parmesan in the dish and on the dish. This is absolutely key and makes a huge difference, although in my pics, I just used plain old grated. It works, too.
- If using a grated mozzarella, layer it in handfuls in the center and do the same for the top, and use a little more than you do when making this with fresh mozzarella. That method will help get your “cheese pulls!”
- If time allows, make your own pasta sauce (that one takes about 20 minutes) or at least add a few Italian herbs and doctor up your jarred pasta sauce. Go with an Italian seasoning blend (mine is here) or just add a little of this and that to tase.
- A little wine drizzled in that sauce always adds a lot of flavor! Just a tablespoon or two, if you have it on hand.
- Consider adding Italian sausage, mushrooms and/or roasted veggies. Just saute the sausage or mushrooms in a little olive oil and any veggies, like bell pepper, zucchini, mushrooms can be drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and roasted at 450 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, turning halfway through the cooking time.
- A few herbs sprinkled on top when the casserole is done always makes it seem just a little fresher.
What to serve Baked Ziti or Penne Pasta With:
Serve with your favorite version of garlic bread (we love Our Family’s Parmesan Toast) but I like to be a little wary of too many carbs at the same meal.
If you’d like to meander over the healthier side, think broccoli, broccolini, or maybe just a nice green salad. I love this recipe adapted from Alton Brown for Oven Roasted Broccoli with this pasta dish because it has just a little Italian flair.
Saving Money on Baked Ziti or Penne Pasta:
If you’re on a budget, a dish like this, especially in it’s simplest form, is really a bargain. Just keep in mind it can be easy to rely too much on pasta dishes for that same reason. Make sure to shake things up a bit. Aslo, really watch the sales on pasta. If you’re a couponer, there’s always some available. Same with a jarred pasta sauce, although a homemade marinara is usually less and takes about 20 minutes.
As far as the cheese, if you use fresh Mozzarella and Parmesan those are items that will give you more bang for your buck flavor-wise compared to storebought block or shredded Mozzarella and canned Parmesan. These are usually what I call “near deli” cheese; they do go on sale regularly, and I often see them on buy one, get one half off specials. That being said, they won’t always fit every budget.
If buying grocery store block or shredded Mozzarella, watch the sales and stock up on their specials. Watch the pricing on the shredded vs the block, too. If you go for a large bag of shredded (a great budget option) have a plan to use all of it quickly; it’s no bargain if you end up tossing what’s left of a bag.
Baked Ziti or Penne Pasta
- Total Time: 45 minutes
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings 1x
- Category: Casseroles
- Cuisine: Italian
- 1 pound of High Protein or Whole Grain Pasta
- 1 24 ounce jar of Pasta Sauce (If not using a jarred variety, you’ll need about 3 cups home-made)
- 6 ounces of fresh mozzarella or about 1 1/2 to 2 cups shredded (6 to 8 ounces shredded)
- Herbs – use 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning, or about 1/4 each of basil and oregano
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- Chopped fresh parsley for garnish, optional
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly spray a two-quart casserole. Have all ingredients prepared and ready to go:
Cut fresh mozzarella, if using, into 1/2 inch by one-inch cubes. If this is a struggle because the Mozzarella is too soft, try cutting it with string or dental floss.
Cook pasta according to directions in good amount of salted, boiling water until a little less than al dente. Stir gently now and then. Drain well, shaking, but do not rinse. Place back into hot pan.
Add the sauce, the fresh mozzarella (see note for grated mozzarella) and herbs, stir and place in casserole dish. Sprinkle with Parmesan and bake JUST until cheese is melted and the casserole is hot and bubbly, about 10 to 15 minutes, no longer than 20 at the most.
Sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.
Note: If using grated mozzarella, do not mix in. Instead, add the sauce to the pasta along with any herbs, then layer the casserole, pasta, mozzarella in small handfuls, then the pasta. Top with Parmesan and/or Mozzarella.
Nutrition for the Baked Ziti: or Penne: Per Serving: 454 Calories; 20g Fat (38.9% calories from fat); 20g Protein; 50g Carbohydrate; 7g Dietary Fiber; 48mg Cholesterol; 956mg Sodium. Exchanges: 3 1/2 Grain (Starch); 1 1/2 Lean Meat; 3 Fat.
Keywords: Bargain Meal of the Week, Casserole, Freezes Well, Italian, Italian sausage, marinara, Mozzarella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pasta, Sausage, spaghetti sauce, Tomato sauce, Tomatoes, Vegetarian Meal